It’s a summer weekday morning and Robinson’s General Store co-owner, Ravi Maddipati, is running around – trying to get point of sale machines back up after a storm, and selling lottery tickets to a customer at one of the check-outs.
There have been long days since his brother-in-law, Venkata Kommina, and he took over the iconic Dorset store about 3.5 months ago.
“It’s going good,” says Maddipati, while seated outside at a table and chairs. He added all of the full-time employees are friendly and eager to help. They do have summer students but not as many as they would like since they took the store over at a time when students had already committed to summer jobs elsewhere.
However, he said many have responded they would consider joining the Robinson’s team next summer.
Maddipati said they are short of staff but “somehow we’re managing” as he and his wife, and Kommina and his wife, are putting in long hours. He said they are working until 9 or 10 p.m. most nights.
“Even this morning, I woke up at 6 a.m. and submitted all the orders before 8 a.m. and then went to the bank,” he says. Only then did he start his shift at the store itself.
“It’s busy now…”
However, he said one good thing is Robinson’s patriarch, Brad Robinson, has been helping out. “He’s a great asset for us… he’s helping a lot.”
Maddipati said Robinson puts in three to four hours every day at the store, and is the first point of contact when issues arise. “We’ll say, ‘Brad, this is the situation’. Then he guides us about who to contact and solve it. If Brad were not here, it would not be easy to run the store this year.”
Maddipati is from the United States and Kommina from Thunder Bay. They also own a gas station in Baysville they purchased last year. Maddipati and his wife are living upstairs at the store. They also have stores in New Brunswick and Thunder Bay-Atikokan. Maddipati is looking after the store, and Kommina the gas station. Kommina is also helping at Robinson’s.
He said once they get through the busyness of summer, they are looking to organize the store this winter. “Right now, we don’t want to disturb any daily operations… And we are short of staff this year. But hopefully next year it’s not going to be like this.”
They are planning on making some internal organizational changes with the layout of aisles, for example. They are also intending to have a big garden centre next year. This year, they simply have not had the time and were too late to order stock. Maddipati said orders have to be placed late January or early February. They do have some garden materials, which they purchased from a third-party, and have found that aspect of the business going well.
They are also working with Home Hardware to give that part of the operation a boost.
They have introduced a new slushie machine, new coffee machine, and have ice cream in the store. They are working towards getting a food truck.
Maddipati has asked customers for patience with things that are out of their control, whether it is staff shortages or the internet being down and knocking out point of sale machines. He said reviews can be misleading. He promised next summer will be better than this summer.
He added most of the returning customers “are very happy” the store has reopened after being shuttered for many months. “Those (comments) give me some boost and energy to work hard.”