When the local post office closed its doors for the last time, Oxfordshire retailer Joe Williams saw the potential to close the gap in the market by installing a post office counter to meet the needs of 2,000 locals. Steven Lambert reports

When the post office in the village of Hook Norton, Oxfordshire, closed its doors suddenly last November, more than 2,000 locals were left without a whole range of vital services.

Step forward Joe Williams, owner of The Village Shop, who offered to introduce a Post Office Local combi-counter at his nearby business.

“We had been in talks with the Post Office for nearly a year, and we agreed to take on a combi-counter as part of the refit.”

The move, part of an £80,000 refit completed just over a month ago, has not only saved residents from travelling miles to handle deliveries, but has also led to growth in sales and footfall at the 1,500sq ft shop.

He says: “People went from having a post office open seven days a week to having a post office van come round for just two hours a week.

Joe says he and his team – including his dad, Tom, and mum, Gloria, who started the business 27 years ago – are now able to offer customers mail services, Euros and US dollars on demand, car tax, cash withdrawals and banking facilities.

He adds that he is already seeing growing numbers of people using the service, which is having a knock-on effect on other parts of the store.

“The counter’s open the same amount of time as the shop is, and the job has been to educate customers about this,” says Joe.

“We’ve placed messages in the village newsletter and we’ve also used social media to let people know about this.

“We’re now seeing more new faces using the counter, and these people are also picking up baskets when they come in. Our basket spend is up by around 50p to £6 since we introduced the counter.”

Joe WilliamsAs part of the refit, Joe also installed new LED lights, a suspended ceiling, updated refrigeration and a larger stockroom to accommodate for more shoppers using his business.

“With a bigger stockroom, it’s opened up our shop floor and allowed us to offer more promotions from Nisa,” he says.

With the next nearest store up to three miles away, and with thousands of holidaymakers passing through to visit the Cotswolds nearby, Joe says another big draw for the business is the wealth of locally-sourced products in stock.

“We’ve recently increased our range of chilled and fresh produce to eight metres, with around a metre dedicated to fresh meat from the local farm just down the road.

“I can sell a box or so of Richmond sausages on promotion a week, but I’ll go through around 40 cases of the £4 sausages we get from just a few miles away.”

Joe also works with the famous Hook Norton brewery, with real ales from the company a particular favourite among locals and tourists. The store offers a permanent three-for-£6 deal on these lines to push up impulse sales.

Excluding other services at the store, which includes the Lottery, dry cleaning, pharmacy prescription pick-ups and a florist, Joe says weekly turnover at the business stands at a robust £19,000.

He says he is looking at various ways to drive this further, including taking advantage of a boom in home cooking and baking among local shoppers.

“With shows like MasterChef and The Great British Bake Off, we’ve had more demand from people looking to cook from scratch.

“We’ve increased our range of fresh produce and baking ingredients, and we introduced three metres of ethnic products, such as Bart’s spices and harissa paste.”

He is now looking to take this one step further by using a disused barn at the back of the store to display more fresh products and goods from local suppliers.

“We’ve definitely seen a big trend towards this and, if you’re in the right area, I think it’s something that other retailers could benefit from as well.

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