Craig Horner explains why ‘it’s so crucial to buy from local suppliers’

With passing trade from both local workers and tourists, Wentworth Village Shop, located between Barnsley and Rotherham, is a testament to the power of local produce and word-of-mouth promotion.

“My brother told us she was selling, and straight away we said, ‘we’ll have it’.”

“We get a lot of passing trade from builders working in the area, as well as tourists visiting Wentworth,” says owner, Craig Horner, who has been running the store with his wife, Zoë, for 11 years. The engineer-cum-newsagent gave up his former trade when his brother’s girlfriend decided to sell her shop:

Surrounded by a wealth of independent producers and suppliers (but few other retail competitors), it made perfect business sense for Craig to establish the store as a provider of local goods.

“We work with a local bakery that makes amazing breadcakes – or baps, depending on where you’re from – and a beekeeper in the village supplies us with local honey, too. We also get some of the best pork pies and sausages you can find from a village butcher near us.”

It’s this focus on provenance that gives Wentworth Village Shop a central place in the community – both as a supplier of goods to customers, and as a supporter of local producers. “It’s so crucial to buy from local suppliers,” Craig says. “Our produce is delivered fresh from our suppliers and often made that day.

“You see lorries going up and down the motorway to the multiples, and the reality is that these products could easily have been in transit for a week, whereas ours is from down the road. Buying local means everything is super fresh, and that’s what’s important to customers.”

Unlike a lot of retailers, Craig admits there is little threat of present or future competition in the area: “We’re very lucky in that we’re in a village setting, and most of the surrounding area is owned by an estate,” he says. “Because it’s owned by a trust there won’t ever be a multiple opening up, so we’re protected from serious competition.”

Rather than take advantage of their isolation, though, Craig is committed to keeping prices low.

“There’s a garden centre down the road that sells more expensive tray bakes and coffees than we do, and they’re not up to the same standard,” he says. Craig’s tray bakes sell for £1 and coffee is £1.30 for a cappuccino and £1.50 for a latte.

“The difference is the market – older folks visit the garden centre and don’t mind spending a bit more on their leisure time on a day out, whereas the majority of our customers are builders. They’re looking for value. If they don’t like what they find, they have no problem telling us,” says Craig. “We still make an excellent margin of 70% on coffees and 30% on tray bakes.”

food counterLike elsewhere in the UK, Craig says food to go has played an increasingly important role in his business. “Hot food sells well and the sandwiches keep the builders coming back to grab lunch. Everything is made fresh to order.”

The store’s old two metre foodservice counter was replaced with a smaller 1.25 metre version – more efficient on electricity and also making room for a new serving area for diversifying their range into different breads, which has proved popular, Craig says.

Despite its village surroundings and chocolate box appeal, Wentworth Village Shop isn’t immune from the demands of the digital era. In fact, as Craig explains, it’s perhaps more important for rural businesses to engage local residents.

“We’ve just started on Facebook and we’d like to start our own Twitter account soon, too. Everyone is using social media these days and it’s just a great way to engage with the local community and promote what we’re doing,” he says. A loyalty reward scheme, offering shoppers a free coffee after every sixth purchase, is also planned for 2017.

“We’d love to do more digital marketing in the future. We’re stocking good-quality local produce – we just need to tell more people about it.”

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