With Post Office services declining, Cumbrian retailer Mike Mitchelson was keen to future-proof his store. A £40,000 refit with help from the Network Transformation Programme has done just that. Chris Rolfe finds out how

Mike Mitchelson has one tip for his fellow postmasters: if you’re offered the chance to invest in your business via the Network Transformation programme, take it.

Working with the Post Office to refit his store earlier this year has helped him grow sales by around 25%, he says.

Mike’s 700sq ft post office and CTN in Brampton in Cumbria is one of two stores owned by him and his wife Anne, and run with son Chris, daughter-in-law Sarah and a team of staff.

“We specialise in news, magazines and traditional CTN lines, but also cards and stationery, which are linked to the post office,” says Mike. “Elderly people rely on us for their banking and pensions, 40 local businesses use us for postal and parcel services and almost half of those do their banking here too. A car transporter company also processes its car and lorry licences here three or four times a year, which can be worth around £30,000 of business a time.”

But, with the government cutting services available through post offices and encouraging direct payments into bank accounts, Mike was keen to strengthen the retail side of his business to maintain profits.

“The post office side is not like it used to be, but being in the town centre is a big draw,” says Mike.

“We wanted to invest in the retail side, and being part of Network Transformation meant there was money for postmasters, so we decided to do a total refurbishment.”

The store was “completely gutted” during the £40,000 refit, with a wall and staircase removed to create a browsing area for cards and magazines, and new lighting, floors, decoration and fittings installed. Three fortresses were reduced to two and repositioned and a combi-counter was added at the till, allowing Mike to extend his post office hours.

“We’ve transformed the store and added an extra 100sq ft of floor space so it’s more open and shopper-friendly,” he says.

The extra space has been used to extend and improve the display of the store’s most popular ranges. Nine feet of bays of magazines have grown to 14, for example.

“We looked through the list of magazines available and added more women’s, home and puzzle magazines. We now stock around 500 titles and sales are up 40%,” he says. “We’ve got 18ft of greetings cards too, and sales of these are up 25%. We also widened our range of soft drinks, stationery and confectionery.”

Post-OfficeMike says the refit has helped build on other offerings introduced recently to complement his post office services.

“We offer a high-margin passport photos service. We sell the photos we take for £4.99, and we do up to 50 of these a week.”

The store has also teamed up with a dry cleaner, a partnership that brings in £400 a month in sales.

“These are add-ons that bring people in. We try to provide a wide range of services for the community,” he says.

The opening of a food hall next door has also brought in new shoppers. “We’ve worked with them to take advantage of the extra customers they bring into the town and Friday and Saturday mornings have become our busiest days on the retail side.”

Looking ahead, Mike sees plenty of potential for his post office.

“A lot of the villages around here have lost their postal services so we’ve been promoting ourselves as the main post office in the area. We’ve also spent time promoting business banking to local firms since, with only one bank left, we’re basically becoming the bank for the town.”

But with his newly extended store, Mike can further develop the retail side too. With the extra space, he will offer a larger Christmas range to go with his cards, wrapping paper and decorations and toy club. He is also looking to introduce alcohol, extend opening hours and open on Sundays.

The experience of developing his store, he says, will help prepare him for another challenge: becoming the NFRN’s national president in 2018.

“I’m a hands-on retailer, which puts me in great stead to represent others because I’ve experienced the same problems. My post office was declining, for example, but by refitting, I’ve managed to maintain that customer base, grow my retail sales and my overall turnover.”   

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