The Christmas rush is on for all convenience retailers, but for store owners with a post office, the season can be especially busy, as customers come in armed with presents, greetings cards and letters to Father Christmas.
Portland Express is one of eight shops in the Portland group, but it was the first to bring in a post office in February this year. The group is run by Anamika Patel’s family, but she joined the Express store in April and has started to make the post office central to the business.
“We started off with a small number of services to help us and our staff learn the ropes,” she explains. “We had postage, postal orders, sim cards and bill payments, but over time we’ve added Parcelforce International and Amazon deliveries.”
The store faces competition from a larger Tesco Express next door, so is focusing on its services to stand out. “People choose us because we provide a quicker service. We have regular customers that will just leave their paper tokens on the counter and wave at us, and we order in requested titles,” she says.
“We have a good relationship with the Tesco staff, who will recommend us when we provide things that they don’t.”
Anamika also makes sure to add a personal touch to everything the team does. “One difference between us and Tesco is that their cash machine will just give you whatever notes are in the machine, whereas our customers can request specific notes,” she explains.
Now the team is gearing up for their biggest test since opening: dealing with the increase in footfall at Christmas.
“One of our major challenges is making sure our customers know that we have a post office because we only have a single counter, so this Christmas we need to make sure we are telling people,” she says.
The store is expecting footfall to double in the weeks leading up to Christmas, so making sure that it is an efficient operation is key. “We’ve been telling our regulars about when the last post is and making sure that they know what they need to do to prepare their parcels at home,” she says.
The shop has also faced a learning curve in how it deals with crime, with three incidents within a few weeks in October. “Crime is a big challenge here. Early one Sunday morning we had people trying to lift the shutters.
“When we had fireworks in, we had a group of teenagers come in to try to get into the cabinet.
“One boy came in and took some of the Halloween masks we had on sale and threw them to his friends to hide from the CCTV, but they only made off with one box.”
Anamika responded by making sure high-value items, such as fireworks, are stored out of the way downstairs – promoted in store by a poster – and has trained her staff not to put themselves at any sort of risk.
“In one incident, one of our staff members went to chase after them, but it’s never worth putting yourself in danger. We never want our staff members to take that risk,” she says.
Anamika reports all crime she faces and shares information with other shops in the area to present a united front to serial offenders.
But she is not deterred by the spate of crime and is instead planning to build her business as part of the community. “One of our biggest opportunities is Parcelforce. At the moment we’re not selling the service well,” she adds.
“Customers think bigger parcels will be more expensive, but we can often do them for much cheaper and get them there in 48 hours. We need to shout about this more next year.”