The old adage of ‘third time lucky’ has proved true for Julie Duhra. After two years of making it as far as the top 100 of the Independent Achievers Academy, her store in Telford has gone all the way to the final this year.

The facts
  • Location: Telford, Shropshire
  • Hours: 6am-8pm Monday – Saturday, 7am-8pm Sunday
  • Staff: Five part-time
  • Size: 1,500sq ft
  • Trading started: Feb 1982
  • Style: A convenience store in a parade of shops, whose customers are predominately local residents, workmen and factory staff.

They had a setback last year when just before the store was due to be assessed, a car smashed through the shop window. “We had just got the shop how we wanted it when it happened,” says Julie, “Our signage was rubbish when they arrived.”

As well as fixing the damage, the shop has had a refresh this year to modernise it and extend the amount of space given to chilled food and drink, with a dedicated soft drinks chiller.

“You have to make steady improvements if you want to keep going forward,” Joey adds. “Like your car, your shop needs a regular service.”

The shop’s ranging has also been improved. “I went to a Co-op and I noticed how they only had one bay for pet food whereas we had 12ft, so I went around our store, looked at the slow sellers and got rid of loads,” says Julie. “Since we joined the IAA we’ve used the Retail Profit Guide. We have it in the top drawer and use it to assess what we’re doing.”

Julie says the key to their success is the loyalty they’ve built up with the local community. “Everyone goes to Tesco Express first, but then they realise its quite expensive.

Value plays a huge role in the store’s offer. “All the workmen come in and pick up a £1 sandwich, a bag of crisps and a 35p energy drink, which gets them lunch for under £2,” explains Julie. Joey says that since the rise of Lidl and Aldi and the recession, everyone wants a bargain. “You have to sacrifice margin to do it, but if you don’t offer a bargain you’re losing sales,” he says.

And it’s not just what they stock that brings people in – it’s the huge role they play in the community. “I get a buzz out of speaking to people,” Julie says. “Being here for so long, you become one big family. They trust me and that’s a big thing.”

A hockey team and Telford United are among those they’ve sponsored in the past, and they’ve just taken on sponsorship of the local under-10s football team. “Their parents and their grandparents use the shop, so we know most of the kids on the team,” says Julie. “If you make a fuss of somebody’s child they’ll come back to the store.”

The Duhras also donate a raft of products, raffle prizes and hampers to charities, and offer work experience to local school kids and people with special needs. “If elderly people can’t get out, we’ll deliver to them and settle the bill when we can,” Julie says. “It’s not how Aldi and Tesco work, but it’s how we work.”

Their hard work has clearly paid off – not only through the success of the store, but the accolades they’ve received. Last year, Julie won the Shropshire Star’s The People’s Champion award and she has been nominated again by customers this year. 

It gets the store out there and gets good advertising, says Julie. “Tesco has already made their name. Us independents, if we don’t get out there and be seen and heard we’ll close down,” she adds.

Continue reading for Julie’s top tips and a gallery of her store