What do Richard Branson, the Post Office and Pharrell Williams’ hit song ‘Happy’, have in common? They’re all Neal Gurney’s source of inspiration for marketing his business and attracting new customers through the door of Thunder Road Post Office.
- Location: Norwich, Norfolk
- Trading since: September 2004
- Staff: Six
- Hours: 9am-5.30pm Mon-Fri, 9am-4pm Sat
- Style: A suburban post office, situated on a busy road in a residential area, it offers a range of products from children’s toys to the Post Office credit card.
In his early twenties, Neal says he went from education into a “mundane” job without thinking about his future prospects. But when his father bought a post office, Neal was offered the chance to run his own business and develop some concrete skills.
Ten years and an additional post office later, Neal now excels in thinking outside the box, and last year created an internet viral video ‘Norfolk’s Happiest Post Office’.
“People have a stereotype of what a post office is like – they think it is a little shop with a miserable person behind a screen selling stamps,” he says. “But the staff here are genuinely friendly, so I thought, ‘How can we let people know?’”
The video features Neal and his team singing and dancing to Happy, while showing off the various services the store offers. “Since making the video we can’t go anywhere in the local area without being recognised, which is exactly what we wanted,” he says.
It has been argued that the internet is killing off post offices, but Neal has embraced change and believes it has helped his store.
He stocks upmarket cards and quality children’s toys to reflect his evolving, internet-focused, customer base. “The internet is a double-edged sword,” he says. “The reduction in people sending letters has meant we’ve lost a certain type of customer – but we’ve gained young small businesses.
“We never used to have this clientele, so that’s why we’ve improved our retail side.”
Neal has also drawn more people in with the addition of a car park. The tenants living in the flat above the shop were neglecting their garden, so he took the opportunity to buy the land and turn it into a car park to attract customers who may have previously driven away.
Last year, Neal’s hard work was recognised by the Post Office and, out of 8,000 branches, he won best agency Post Office 2014.
As well as reaching out to customers online, he wants to have a presence in every aspect of community life. Staff are encouraged to take part in charity events and he most recently set up a stall at the switching-on of the Christmas lights to showcase his products.
He says: “The aim isn’t to make money from these events; it’s really for marketing. I’m trying to get bigger on that side, that’s what running a business is all about.”
He looks up to high-profile entrepreneurs, in particular Richard Branson, as a source of inspiration for marketing. “Branson bought an airline without knowing the first thing about being a pilot; but he did know how to market a business,” he says. “That’s how you make a business successful. For example, I am no longer a postmaster – I am a marketeer of a post office.”
Neal’s attitude may seem unconventional but it works for his post office. He keeps staff up-to-date with changes and has hired a manager to run the day-to-day business, leaving him to oversee the two franchises and help other small business owners.
He is in the process of starting a coaching business as he wants to help other owners learn about marketing and social media. “Business is good, I trust the staff can run everything well on their own, so coaching is where I want to go,” he says. “I want to share with people what I’ve learned.”