When Heather and Broderick Rigg took over Skircoat Green Post Office in April 2008 – the month of their second wedding anniversary – the store was in a sorry state.
“The building was run down. The people who owned it had virtually left, and the Post Office had hired an agency to keep it running,” Heather recalls.
At the time, Heather was working as an environmental health officer for the council. “I’d got fed up of the day job,” she says. “Our son had a paper round at the shop, and he came home one day saying it was for sale.”
It was just the new challenge she was looking for. From that point on, the hard work began, as she sought to turn the ailing village post office into a thriving independent store. For two years, Heather built up the business on her own, running the post office and refilling the empty shelves with groceries. Then Broderick left his job and came on board. He’d trained as a baker and so – with Heather also having spent her career in catering – it made sense to open an in-store bakery.
They drew on old friendships, sourcing products from two nearby bakeries, Wilkinsons and Lottie Shaw – Lottie being the daughter of the baker who, decades earlier, taught Broderick his craft.
Broderick also put that craft to work himself, baking a range of sweet and savoury products. His most popular items are strawberry tarts, which sell upwards of 50 a day.
As time went on, the bakery expanded its offering, adding hot breakfasts – bacon, sausage, egg, hash browns – and a selection of cold sandwiches. Today, it makes up more than 40% of store turnover (excluding the post office) and provides margins of up to 50%.
The bakery also ties the store together with nearby businesses, creating a reciprocal flow of trade that nourishes a vibrant local economy.
“Our beef, turkey and ham sandwiches all have a big following, because we buy the meat from the butcher across the road: he cooks it himself and it’s beautiful,” Broderick says. “We go through £30 worth of meat a day in our sandwiches, and he buys Danish pastries, croissants, coffee and milk from us.”
During the period of change, the original core of the business diminished. But it was given a boost three years ago, when the Post Office launched its network transformation project, providing support for retailers to integrate the postal service into the rest of their store.
“Now we’re all open plan, it runs much more efficiently,” Heather says. “A post office is always going to be the focal point of the village, so it brings in the footfall.”
Broderick was also determined to use the renovations to install an ATM. “The Post Office wasn’t going to do it, but we arranged the planning permission so eventually they agreed,” he says. “It’s brilliant for the village and gets an average of 2,500 transactions a week.”
Such innovations have spread over more than one floor. Heather and Broderick converted unused first-floor space into three serviced apartments, while the downstairs storeroom is rented out as office space to an old, estate agent friend.
There’s no doubt that overseeing such a diverse business model is hard work. “We’re real grafters, we open at 5am – you can grab a coffee and croissant at 5.30, and a sandwich by 9.15 – then shut at 8pm,” says Heather.
But the control and independence make it worthwhile – as does the occasional industry recognition: in February, Skircoat Post Office won 2019 Convenience Retailer of the Year at the NFRN awards.