WHEN Cheryl and Dave Chapman upped sticks from Durban, South Africa, five years ago they were hoping for a comfortable life in the Wiltshire countryside.
But just months after relocating the global recession bit, and the investments they were relying on for their retirement did not pay out as they had expected.
To make ends meet they took a punt on buying a business, and when they saw the photograph of the Village Shop in this quiet Oxfordshire Village, they fell in love with it.
“I ran a business in South Africa and Dave worked in printing and packaging, but we had never done anything like this before,” says Cheryl.
With no previous shop experience, it was a steep learning curve for them, especially with keeping on top of their stock. At first Dave was tearing off to the cash and carry depot for emergency top-ups three or four times a week.
But after six months they had found a rhythm and now they are truly up and running. One of their first decisions, after a big de-clutter of the shop, was to use more local suppliers.
“We know that ultimately we are a convenience shop and people come here for what they’ve forgotten to but at the supermarket,” says Cheryl.
“But now we have things they cannot get at the supermarket, so it gives them a reason to come here.”
Among their locally sourced products are wine, beer, jams, sauces and breads, all of which have proven extremely popular with the affluent village residents, who include 15 doctors.
But they also stock a range of basic goods too, catering for those with less disposable income such as the council estate residents, many of whom are on benefits.
Stanton St John is an idyllic village – so much so that the shop has featured in the Oxfordshire-based television series Midsomer Murders. The sign that was used in the show now rests above their deli counter, which is filled with goods made on the day by a nearby baker.
“We have pies and pasties that arrive hot and steaming and people can smell them as soon as they walk in,” says Cheryl.
Other tweaks they have made include getting a bigger fridge for more chilled produce and creating a pick n’ mix display for children at the local school, although it’s also popular with builders. They also raise cash for the church restoration fund and the village preschool by selling locally made craft work which they display in their front window.
Many residents still think the shop closes at lunch as it did under its previous ownership, but now 1pm to 2pm is their busiest time of day, with Cheryl’s handmade sandwiches some of their fastest moving items.
Making their stock more accessible to their customers has been key.
Dave says: “We used to have all our wine behind the counter, and we assumed you had to do this by law. But we found out that wasn’t the case and put it on the shop floor.
“Now people can pick up the bottles and read the labels and it gives them more confidence to buy. We’ve had no problems at all with shoplifting.”
Dave is usually the one in ‘front of house’ and greets the customers from the till when they enter the shop. His expertise in marketing has been invaluable. As well as creating their own PoS and branded hessian shopping bags, they have put up a new sign on the main road which has proven a winner at enticing passing drivers to drop by for some lunch and supplies.
Cheryl says: “Our biggest advantage is that our customers really want the shop. Some people from each of the four villages we serve will go out of their way to do a £40 shop. And others are in three or four times a day.
“It’s very hard work doing this but in a few years time when we retire, we’ll look back and say it was a lot of fun.”
SHOP AT A GLANCE
- Name: The Village Shop, Stanton St John
- Location: Stanton St John, Oxfordshire
- Size: 500 sq ft
- Opening hours: 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday, 8am to 1pm Wednesday and Saturday, and 8.30am to 11am Sunday
- Staff: Cheryl, Dave and their daughter Kathy
- Date started trading: April 2011
CHERYL AND DAVE’S TOP TIPS
- Visualise who your customers are and cater to their needs
- Show people a smile and a friendly face when they walk into the shop
- Stock local products – it will give you a point of difference to supermarkets