SHAWN CHOUDRY - Founder of Worlds Liquors
By the time Shawn Choudry turned 21, he’d already traveled a long and winding path, but a whole new world was about to open for him.
“My story begins in Pakistan, but I was raised in Dubai. Then I moved to California and worked a lot in wholesale merchandise. Finally, I came to Kansas City looking for a job, and that’s when retail caught my eye.”
Shawn had a friend who worked at a convenience store in Kansas City, and the exposure inspired his entrepreneurial spirit. He quickly scraped up a little money to open his own convenience store and found a location with affordable rent.
“The money part of getting set up wasn’t so scary. I figured, ‘Let’s try it. I have nothing to lose. I love America and it has given me so much. There’s opportunity everywhere.’ That gave me confidence to start my own business.”
Then reality settled in. Shawn didn’t know anything about running a business or a convenience store. So, he rolled up his sleeves and devoted himself to figuring it out. Hard work immediately became a way of life.
“I worked for two straight years. No days off. No vacations. My wife, Shamaila, was right there with me the whole time. I couldn’t have done it without her.”
It was the toughest thing he’d ever done, but he loved it. Retail was definitely his calling – and he was excited. Then came September 11, 2001. The timing of the terror attacks was especially inconvenient for his budding convenience store business. It threatened to turn everything upside down.
“That was probably the worst moment of my life. People were coming into my store and threatening me because I’m Muslim.”
But not everyone was against him. In fact, many people showed up to offer support.
“I remember one man said to me, ‘Don’t worry. We want you here. Don’t pay attention to the troublemakers. You’re a good guy. This is a good business. We’ll take care of you.’”
That same day, Shawn noticed that gas stations and convenience stores across the country were dramatically raising their prices at the pump. He decided not to touch his.
“I was the only store in the area that didn’t raise my gas prices during that time, when there was so much fear everywhere about terror and the economy. You might remember there was quite a fuel-shortage scare.”
Standing firm on gas prices drew even more support from Shawn’s customers and neighbors. That’s when he really started feeling like he was home.
The community is why I am here.
“I love Kansas City. September 11 could have set me back, but it turned out to be a turning point for my business. The community is why I am here. They know I’m a local business and they stick up for me.”
Giving customers what they want is the most important lesson Shawn has learned about business. It’s made him successful, and it earns loyalty that drives his bottom line. Customers wanted longer business hours and he delivered. They requested specific products and he put them on the shelf. But the feedback that changed his business the most involved wine and beer. He discovered that gas brought people into his store, but alcohol is what they were looking for.
“I was the first convenience store in the area to sell wine. Wine distributors said it wouldn’t work, but it not only worked – it took off. I was also the first convenience store around to start selling beer by the can.”
Growing demand for a wide variety of beer brands prompted Shawn to create a walk-in cooler he refers to as the “beer cave.” That’s when his store name, Worlds Liquors, really came to life. The company now has three locations, and success has left Shawn wanting to give back.
“I organize a large customer appreciation day every year that features tastings, food giveaways and raffles. I invite other small businesses to participate by setting up booths in my parking lot to promote their products.”
What’s Shawn’s advice to other small businesses looking to jump from the startup phase to the next level? Join the community you serve.
“Local businesses are successful because they understand the community; they share the experience. People are not just customers, they are neighbors. Get to know them and help them. That’s good business.”
That’s also why Worlds Liquors tapped Lead Bank to support its growth.
“Lead Bank knows me. They appreciate me. They do business like I do business. They put community first. That’s the kind of partner I want to grow with.”
Shawn believes in the idea behind the words grow home that Lead Bank champions.
“The only way to grow a local business is to understand that you have a role in growing the community, too. We all have to help each other out. Greater Kansas City is our hometown. Together, we make it what it is and what it can be.”