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Community-minded Mace retailer Adrian Thompson uses close links with local firms and his symbol group to entice holidaymakers and loyal locals into his thriving family store.Tom Gockelen-Kozlowski reports
With strawberries, potatoes and even brussels sprouts grown on his doorstep, Adrian Thompson is able to source fresh produce that, in a matter of minutes, travels from the soil to his shelves. “I know it’s not possible for every retailer, but we are fortunate with the location we’re in,” he says.
Speaking with this passionately community-minded retailer, it is soon clear just how fortunate he feels.
The store he runs, a Mace in Filby, on the outskirts of Great Yarmouth, was built by his father in 1963, originally as a separate fish shop and post office, but has gradually morphed into a modern 1,600sq ft convenience store.
Adrian has been in the business since he left college in 1983 but, at 87, his parents are still involved, his dad still rising at 4.30am to help deliver newspapers in some of the most rural parts of their six-mile HND catchment area.
So what keeps him, and his parents, still so passionate about their business?
“It’s a love of the area. My father was a local councillor here from 1964 until 2014 – 50 years. I have been on the parish council since I was 21 – that’s 32 years,” he says.
Adrian’s work in the community goes “hand in glove” with his work for the business, he believes. “We have a playing field and village hall – I’m chairman of that – and we also do the In Bloom campaign. We’ve been quite successful – every summer the village is full of flowers,” Adrian says.
“We’ve got the personal feel the bigger shops can’t create”
Filby benefits from a rush of summertime tourists and in peak season his turnover can be up 30%. Any community investment that attracts them can therefore have a positive effect on the store.
“We have an ‘open gardens’ weekend in July when villagers open their gardens up and we have up to 500 people come to Filby. We have a vintage bus that goes around the village and stops by the shop,” he adds.
In summer, the store increases its range of gift products, including Filby-branded chocolate boxes and tea towels to cater to the tourist market.
But Adrian’s civic pride is far more than a show for holidaymakers. Working with local businesses is something the business “homes in on”.
A local florist supplies cut flowers – from £4.50 a bunch – and house plants selling for up to £20 each which are available on sale or return and offer margins of up to 30%. “With something that’s perishable, if you can get a sale or return, that’s a big plus – you can’t really lose,” Adrian says.
The store also stocks “superb” hams and sausages from a local butcher, and gets daily fresh sandwiches delivered from Direct Catering – another local firm.
Some of these relationships date back decades, but Adrian has noticed a renewed hunger for local produce recently.
“We swung away from it slightly when the big suppliers came in but if anything that’s probably swinging the other way now. If you have that little bit of something different it makes all the difference,” he says.
Mace Filby is built on these kinds of strong relationships – at all levels. Two of the eight women who work alongside the family have done so for well over 20 years.
But the store’s ties with its symbol partner – Mace – go back to the day the store opened. “The firm has changed but we’ve stuck with them,” he says.
It is through Mace they have embraced convenience’s modern standards – whether that’s being open for 16 hours a day or using the symbol’s links to operate a hugely successful Cuisine de France bake-off section.
Recently, Adrian has been most impressed with the £2 bread and milk promotion he has been able to run as a Mace retailer through Costcutter.
“That’s a deal that stands up to the big boys,” he says.
So although he believes, thanks in part to pensions changes and the national living wage, this is the “most difficult” time the business has faced, Adrian remains confident.
“There will always be a demand for local shops, and we’ve got the personal feel the bigger shops can’t create.”
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