Be great at one thing’ is Welsh retailer Meryl Williams’ philosophy when it comes to her business, but during her time running Pike’s Newsagent, she has learned to be great at one thing after another and has consistently found new ways to make her store stand out.
The orange, blue and white-fronted store is the last remaining newsagents on the high street of small coastal town Porthmadog in north-west Wales.
“We’re in the middle of town so we’re in quite a good location and we get a lot of passing trade, not to mention the tourists as well,” says Meryl, who has run the 700sq ft shop for 26 years; initially working alongside her father until he passed away in 2007.
Pike’s has been in the family for 114 years, first opened by her grandfather, but she now runs it alongside her husband David. By moving deftly, the couple have helped the store achieve sales of more than £16,000.
“Over the years we’ve learned that we just have to adapt,” says Meryl. Opening hours were a big thing to change early on, for example – staying open until late in the evenings was no longer financially viable when the local caravan park developed its own camp facilities.
“That was a good move because it brought people into the shop,” she says. “Last year it was worth £2,600 a week but this year it’s reached around the £3,000 mark. That’s an 11% increase on last year.”
She introduced the National Lottery to Pike’s in 2012 after repeated enquiries from holidaymakers.
A second way Meryl has ensured her store remains on the map is her tobacco and e-cigarette range. “I’ve been told we’ve got one of the biggest gantries in the area. In fact, we had to get a gantry specially made,” she says. “Recently we had a guy who’d driven all the way from Gloucester to buy a tobacco pipe because he’d read about our range of pipes online.
“On a monthly basis we buy up to £30,000-worth of tobacco products and have a profit of about 5% We won’t sell above the RRP and it brings people into the store,” she says.
With these two major footfall drivers in place, Meryl has concentrated on delivering a range that ensures repeat trade – by catering to her local area.
So, when a local branch of Clintons closed, she invested in low-cost Welsh and English greetings cards (featuring a local photographer’s work) which have become extremely popular with one particular demographic. “We sell sympathy cards at £1 each, which are particularly popular with the elderly, and we have a 100% mark up on them,” she says.
And when the last rival newsagent in the area disappeared in March, Meryl inherited a list of the speciality magazines it had sold. Yet, with a Tesco, Lidl, Spar, Aldi and a forecourt nearby, this was no easy job.
“I managed to pick up 42% of the speciality magazine reader base. We have such a large selection currently that we’re going to have to invest in a new type of stand.”
Sometimes, however, a more ruthless approach is necessary.
“We used to sell a few toys but then someone opened a toy shop down the road so we concentrated on jigsaws – you’ve just got to adapt,” she says. Boxes of jigsaw puzzles can be found all around the store, including a 3D lighthouse jigsaw – built by David – in the shop window.
The store even offers fishing tackle and frozen bait – yet another sign that no customer’s need goes unmet at Pike’s.
Last year saw Meryl enter the IAA for the first time. “We managed to get into the top 100,” she says. “After that I thought ‘right, I want to try and get into the final next year’.
“We joined the retail club, invested money in improving the look of the shop, merchandising and offered more promotions.”
And next year? “I want to build a website and to be crowned winner of the Service to the Community IAA award,” says Meryl.
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