Long Ashton Post Office: ‘Our fight to get shoppers back after ATM explosion’

The Long Ashton Post Office team had finished rebuilding their store, but the work had just begun rebuilding their brand.

Location: Long Ashton, Bristol

Hours: 7am-11pm Mon-Sat, 8am-10pm Sun

Staff: Four

Size: 380sq ft

Trading since: 2008

David Andrews received a phone call from a staff member opening up the store. “It’s gone” she said. “What do you mean it’s gone” David replied. The answer came back “The shop, the whole shop”.

Three thieves had pumped Long Ashton Post Office in Bristol full of gas, blowing up the cash machine and setting the store alight.

Almost immediately, the team began getting the Post Office store back in working order. Asked why he chose to continue, David says: “We’ve got staff that need jobs and customers who need a post office.”

Though he admits that a stubborn will to not let the thieves win also played a part. It took four months and £250,000 to reopen the store, and when it did, they found their customers had switched to shopping at the Co-op less than 100m away.

The team had finished rebuilding the store, but the work had just begun rebuilding their brand. “When we were shut, people changed their shopping habits – they had to,” he says. “We thought about how we could differentiate ourselves and we knew the first step would be giving our customers things they can’t find in the local supermarket.”

Knowing that his store sits in the second most affluent area of Bristol, the business model changed to focus on service, artisanal produce and locality, “It’s little suppliers and little invoices, little and often,” he explains.

While they’re still present on the shelves, many major brands have taken a back seat, with nearly all categories featuring locally-sourced produce. David explains: “Our bread is from a local bakery, our milk is from a local dairy, our cheese comes from down the road – so do our cured meats – our jam is from Devon, the greeting cards are from the town itself, we have local chocolate, and our eggs are laid three miles away.”

It wasn’t just stock differentiation that helped David win back his customers, but differentiation in service too. “It’s a case of being friendly,” he says. “It’s not ‘next, next, next’ like in a supermarket, it’s all about customer service and going out of your way to help people.”

At just 380sq ft, there’s limited room, but the Post Office team are still looking for ways to innovate. Knowing that their pastry sales are strong, for example, they are looking for a way to bring in hot coffee that fits the store and community’s ethos. This includes a “café light” approach with outdoor seating, a counter-top machine and an artisanal experience.

“We’ve looked at the usual offerings, Tchibo and Costa, but we don’t think it’s right for the store or the clientele,” he says. “It needs to be bean to cup, it needs to be fresh milk and Fairtrade. Without all these elements people aren’t going to buy it.”

Top tips

Reduce the risk

David says: “After the attack we got every security system we could. The chances of it happening are minimal, but the damage is massive and we’ve taken every step possible to prevent it.”

Take a hint

To find local produce, the team trawled the internet, visited farm shops and farm produce fayres. “We even took some cheeky photos of our rival shop’s ranges,” he says.

Fight for every inch

“In a small shop every inch matters,” he says. “We pushed the walls back by six inches, reduced cabinet depth and added an overhead gantry to give us every opportunity to convert footfall into spend.”

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