“We haven’t got the footfall that we used to have,” says Graham Cooke, from Hockley Station Kiosk in Essex. “That’s our biggest problem now.”
Despite facing a number of challenges, Graham and his son, Adrian, are striving to keep their shop, located opposite the ticket office at Hockley station, in business.
Graham first opened the store in 1991, having previously owned a Spar newsagent in Hockley town.
Adrian also has a long background in retail, having run a store in nearby Southend-on-Sea before joining his dad at the Hockley station business a few years ago.
“I’m gradually taking over responsibility for the shop, as my dad gets ready for retirement. Now I’m working four days a week, while my dad comes in on Wednesdays,” Adrian explains.
The store’s location means its customers tend to look for very specific things, such as mints, newspapers, chocolate and cereal bars, and soft drinks.
“Most of our customers are commuters going to the railway station in the morning,” says Adrian. “We used to sell out of newspapers by 9am, we’d have customers queuing up around the corner.
“Then, about 10 years ago, things started to change and the number of customers started to go down,” Adrian continues.
Graham says a number of different things happening in short space of time caused this drop in footfall.
“People started working from home a lot more,” Graham explains. “Around the same time, free papers like the Metro expanded distribution to our train station.
“The rise of the internet hasn’t helped, either. Fewer people are buying newspapers in general – they’re reading the news on their phones and tablets.”
Despite this, the Cookes are facing their challenges head on. Adrian, in particular, thinks it’s important to be as proactive as possible.
“When I started here, the papers were late on a regular basis. For us, this was a big problem. If we missed a train in the morning, it lost us a lot of money,” he says. “I wanted to sort it out – we’re a small shop, but we make a loud noise.
“I campaigned with the NFRN, and spoke to the supplier. We’ve turned it around and our news deliveries are a lot better.”
Now, the store’s bestselling papers are The Sun and the Daily Mail. Although sales have gone down in the past 10 years, they still sell around 50 copies of The Sun each weekday morning.
“We’ve got a regular group of customers who keep coming to us,” says Graham. “We focus on making sure we have the things they need.”
To do that, Adrian and Graham have streamlined their shop, making sure they stock the things they know they can sell and are avoiding wasting money on things that don’t.
“A few months ago, we really cut down our crisps selection,” Adrian explains. “We used to have a big range, but so many of them were going to waste – expiring before we could sell them. So, we’ve just cut it down to Mini Cheddars now. These sell really well, because customers see them as being a healthier option than other crisps.”
They also keep an eye out for new lines that could do well for the shop. Growing interest in healthy eating has seen them put in more cereal bars, while vapes and e-cigarettes have been another recent success.
For Adrian, the key is to keep thinking of customers’ needs, and make the improvements you can with the resources you have. “Two years ago, we changed the layout of the shop. We moved the counter to the back, to make it easier for customers to find what they want, and the shop looks a lot brighter.
“We’ve had some really positive feedback on that change; small things can really make a difference.”