Every weekday, after the school bell rings, students and parents alike flood Forest Lake’s IGA supermarket.

One group is hungry for slushies and icy poles. The other races around the store, grabbing last-minute dinner items before ducking into the daycare centre next door and collecting the kids.

For the past 16 years, that time shortly after school’s let out has looked the same inside this small business of Brisbane’s south. One that recently picked up $5,000 in AGL’s Big Boost for Small Business competition.

Yet its owner, Shyam Verma, is as fond of these moments of madness that sweep through his shop as he was on day one.

For the love of the locals

Shyam has always enjoyed the company of people, just as he loves getting involved in the community.

Along with his regulars, Shyam’s staff at Forest Lake IGA stem from the area. For him, that makes his supermarket’s contributions to local schools, charities and mothers’ groups all the more meaningful. Much like the one he gave after the Brisbane floods of early 2011, when his store’s Community Chest raised $2,000 to help repair the Jindalee Bowls Club.

Now that his own kids have grown up and moved interstate, greeting the friendly faces of his customers as they walk through the door also helps with him remaining personally connected. Especially when he sees “doing business” as being more than just nine to five.

“I work at the business these days, rather than in the business,” Shyam explains. “I have people who open and close the store for me, and while I’m there every day, running a small business is really a 24/7 job. You’re never not working.”

Shyams tips for small businesses

Owning the Forest Lake IGA was a second career for the now 71-year-old Shyam. He came to Australia from India as a chemical engineer and worked for a long time with the CSIRO.

What’s been Shyam’s favourite part of being a small business owner? “The best thing about running my own IGA is the independence.”

And with more than one-and-a-half decades of shop-keeping now under his belt, what sage advice does he have for his fellow small business owners around Australia? “It’s important to have good relationships with your staff and customers, as well as your suppliers,” says Shyam. “Arrangements with suppliers should be simple and in writing.”

Then there’s challenging yourself. As Shyam says, if he had his time again, he would expand his business, rather than just settling on a single store. “Managing two stores is not much more work that managing one. And when you have three or five, things get easier and the margins are better.”

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The cool things a bonus $5,000 brings

Unlike Shyam, the failing air-conditioning unit at Forest Lake IGA has never coped well with the after-school stampede. On those hot and humid Queensland days, the clunky, noisy and inefficient contraption could barely break even with the outside temperature.

So when he got the call that he was one of five winners of $5,000 in AGL’s Big Boost for Small Business competition, he knew just what he would do with it.

Well, eventually – once he realised his win was for real. “I thought it was one of those scams,” Shyam jokes. “[But now] the store is more comfortable and my staff are much happier, plus the new unit is more energy efficient.”

Learn how energy efficiency could make good sense for your small business.