Business was not exactly booming for Newport retailer Jon Powell. Then he decided to embrace social media – and he hasn’t looked back since. Steven Lambert reports

For many people, Facebook and Twitter have become an ideal way of staying in close contact with friends and family. But, for Jon Powell, social media has also proven to be a powerful tool for winning the trust and support of shoppers – and may well have saved his business from closure.

The Newport retailer has been growing his online presence in order to work more closely with local businesses and bring his community together, which in turn has helped drive shoppers back to the city’s high street.

 <figcaption>Offering something different, like soft scoop ice cream, ensures that customers return to Jon’s store</figcaption>” width=”173″ height=”300″> Offering something different, like soft scoop ice cream, ensures that customers return to Jon’s store</figure><p class=In fact, Jon says that without the internet, he may have had to stop trading altogether. He says: “We had been trading in the city centre for 17 years, but the recession had a big impact on trade and people were starting to avoid the high street.

“So about four years ago, we got together with other businesses to convince the council to get more people shopping on the high street. They told us they were planning to get more buses coming through the area, but it would mean a major redevelopment, which included demolishing my shop and moving us into a new unit.”

Having agreed to take the plunge, Jon was relocated to a temporary site while roadworks were taking place. At least, he thought it would be temporary.

He explains: “We were told that we would be relocated to the new store within four weeks, but it took them 10 months to get the works done.”

“We were basically trading from a shipping container with no advertising at the front. People kept walking past us, and we were on the verge of bankruptcy.”

Jon knew he needed to do something fast – so he set up a Facebook and Twitter account for the business and used these to call on the help of manufacturers.

“We had a positive response from quite a few of them,” he says. “News UK was particularly helpful, and Wrigley was very supportive by giving us a new chewing gum stand. And Imperial even helped set up a gantry in the unit so we could keep selling tobacco. It kept us going.”

His patience paid off when the council finally offered him the chance to move to a new site last November, which he simply called The Newsagent. Jon says: “It’s a good location, as we’re right by the high street and close to the market as well, so we get a good mix of people coming in.”

It’s important for any retailer using social media that they get in contact with and involve other businesses in it, as it helps build that sense of community among shoppers

The move has also enabled him to fully utilise his social media skills: “I’m now part of an online group called Newport Rises, which is made up of local businesses. We help promote each other’s services and also promote events going on in Newport.

“I think it’s important for any retailer using social media that they get in contact with and involve other businesses in it, as it helps build that sense of community among shoppers.”

With a wealth of competition from convenience stores and supermarkets nearby, Jon says he is focused on running a traditional CTN model specialising in news and magazines. “We’re slowly expanding our magazine range and we now stock over 100 monthly titles. I also have a close relationship with the South Wales Argus.”

The shop has also become well known for its extensive range of ice cream, including an impressive Wall’s soft scoop service, while a slush drinks machine has also been a hit with shoppers. “I’m now looking into serving bespoke milkshakes in the near future,” adds Jon.

In addition, e-cigarettes and e-liquids have been rapidly growing in popularity at the store: “We were one of the first to stock e-liquids from Magic Mist, and we now have around 80 different lines. We must have taken about £30,000 since we first started stocking them.”

With his new shop, Jon says turnover has doubled in the past seven months and shows little sign of slowing down – certainly something worth shouting about on Facebook.

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