When Kate Clark’s family friend, Sean, died seven years ago, it was not only a tragedy for her but it also left a hole in her home town of Upton upon Severn as his successful newsagents closed its doors.
“He had been in the shop for years but his estate had to be sold and our family decided to buy the store,” she says.
Originally, the family were going to appoint a store manager to run the business but Kate, then an area manager for foodservice operator Whitbread (owner, at that time, of the Café Rouge chain), started to get increasingly involved.
“I realised I wanted to do it myself so we renamed the business Sean’s News, after our friend. I started to put in some of the things I was used to doing like fresh coffee, sandwiches and snacks.”
Since the store reopened in 2009, Kate has expanded this to include soft scoop ice cream, hot dogs and added a seating area.
“I’d been to America and seen the diners where you could buy papers and sit around drinking coffee. I wanted to do that kind of thing here, rather than just a shop where customers come off the street and buy things and leave,” she says.
It would be an ambitious plan for any retailer but with Sean’s News 750sq ft floor space, the breadth of her range is even more impressive.
“It’s a standing joke among my customers that if you can’t find it in Kate’s shop, you can’t get it in Upton.”
Many of these products – such as Rollover Hot Dogs – are brought in after customer requests and weekly sales of 75 hot dogs at £1.69 each is a testament to the success she gets from listening to her regulars.
Other new products, however, come from local business who know that Kate is a champion for supporting nearby producers.
“My scoop ice cream is from just outside of Worcester, I’ve got local chocolates from Hamiltons, a company in Stratford upon Avon, and when the butchers shop closed I put local eggs in and now sell 15 trays a week.”
With Upton upon Severn sitting in the idyllic Malvern Hills district of Worcestershire, these local products aren’t only a hit with regulars but also with the thousands of tourists who come to the area each summer.
“We’ve got a folk festival in a few weeks and I often see the same holidaymakers again and again.”
When events like this happen Kate takes her business into the fields selling milk, newspapers and cigarettes to revellers.
“I can make the same in four days there than I can in the shop in a month so it keeps things going over the winter,” she says.
It’s this embracing of every opportunity that has helped Kate establish her business again over the past five and a half years and she believes it’s in the right position to flourish even more over the coming months.
I’d been to America and seen the diners where you could buy papers and sit around drinking coffee. I wanted to do that kind of thing here
“We’ve had a great winter – the first that we haven’t had the roads up, the bridge painted or seen flooding. We’ve been open five years and people are coming to us again and again.”
This recognition is starting to spread out from the local area and the industry is waking up to Kate’s achievements. In 2013, she was named Independent Newspaper Retailer of the Year at the NFRN awards and she’s currently working on a plan with Imperial Tobacco to get her store ready for mystery shoppers from the Independent Achievers Academy.
First, however, is her nomination for an award from Worcestershire College for being one of the top employers in Worcestershire of young people, after working with apprentices in her store.
“My apprentice Lizzie is going to come along with me to give her a chance to meet people and to find out if I’m doing the right things with her.”
With so many customers coming back again and again, the answer surely is that Kate’s doing exactly the right thing.
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