Hazem Sedda’s success in his small business comes down to a single factor -- he treats his customers as though they are family.
Sedda’s father started the Redfern Convenience Store in 2000 after emigrating from Palestine and Sedda began working there at age 16.
He took over the business in 2003 when he was just 19 and worked 18 hour days for almost seven years straight.
He has literally spent most of his life in that 80sqm space, but says it’s never been a problem because he loves the business and, more importantly, he loves his customers (even to the point of throwing them surprise birthday parties in store).
“Working in a convenience store you meet all kinds of people and because they see me all the time we become friends with all of them,” he told The Huffington Post Australia.
“I have met couples and seen their kids grow up as well -- one I met in 2003 now they are in university.
“So it feels like a family, like I spend my time there and I don’t even feel like going home.”
Although he admits there’s a bad element to his clientele -- occasionally someone will try to steal something from the shop -- Sedda says he always tries to build relationships with all of them.
For Sedda that means being helpful, friendly but also generous and letting people off when they don’t have enough money.
“People like coming to our business because they feel safe, they see the honesty, the shop is always clean, they always get a big smile,” he said.
“Sometimes we give things to them and we don’t make money -- it’s just to help them out. If they are short of money we let them go.
“We don’t look at it as just money, we look at it as being part of the community -- we are there for them and they come to us as well.
“We’re helping each other -- one day they ask for change, the next day they might come and buy a chewing gum and a lollipop and a chocolate.”
Thanks to Instagram, Sedda has taken his customer service to the next level, posting a #customeroftheday picture and racking up 5000 followers since January.
Sedda’s social media boom is courtesy of radio personality Ben Fordham, whom Sedda calls his “very good friend”.
Fordham, who last week opened up about his epilepsy, posted a picture of Sedda on his own Instagram account, and later downloaded the app for Sedda who, after first considered posting pictures of his products, decided to honour his Redfern “family” instead.
He takes one picture a day to post -- and his clients are pretty creative with their poses.
“I think 99 percent of the time if people do something funny or if they have a story behind it I take their picture,” he said.
Now, thanks to being featured as a CommBank Australian of Day, people not only come in and request to be the #customeroftheday, he has people from all over Australia dropping in when they are in town to meet him.
“I have people who see my Instagram account coming from the Gold Coast, Melbourne, Adelaide and even Dubbo -- they come to say 'hi' and to meet me and say congratulations and that they are very proud of me and they wish there were more people like me and they buy some product from us,” he said.
“Before people used to say ‘the guy at the corner shop’ which I never used to like -- I could be any guy. Now they say ‘Hazem’ which is really really cool.”
Ordering in speciality products from overseas such as confectionary, drinks and grocery items is another way Sedda has built customer loyalty -- even if they offer low profit margins when the Australian dollar dips.
“People come to us for products that the supermarket doesn’t have, so we start to look for them in the US, UK, Ireland and Scotland,” he said.
“It’s still something that people keep coming back to buy, so it’s good. And when they buy it sometimes they buy a chocolate bar too, so it all adds up.”
Sedda says Redfern has changed dramatically, and the shop has changed with it, adapting to changes in clientele and servicing other local businesses too.
A passionate bodybuilder, Sedda began to frequent three new gyms which opened in the area and, after being asked about the protein powders he personally used, began stocking them in the store to build his customer base.
An astute investor, Sedda bought several Sydney properties “back when they were cheap” and could now afford to sit back and relax - but he says that won’t be happening any time soon.
“If I don’t want to work I don’t have to, but I still do between 40 and 60 hours a week,” he said.
"I’m not the kind who will ever stop working. I just love working.”