Royal Wootton Bassett was regularly in the new a few years ago as the town where fallen British soldiers were repatriated.
Ashwin and Rita Patel’s post office sits just behind the war memorial and often appeared in newspaper photographs of the military parades.
It’s a high profile location and this is one of their business’s key advantages. To make the most of it, last year they rebranded under the WH Smith Local franchise fascia, while changing to a Post Office Local model at the same time.
“People are still coming in and saying
‘Wow – when did you get this done,” says Rita.
“We’ve got prime position and now with the right name on our shop it makes us a landmark on the High Street.”
Ashwin and Rita Patel
Wootton Bassett Post Office (WH Smith Local)
Location: Royal Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire
Date trading started: April 2011
Hours: 6.30am-5.45pm Monday to Friday, 6.30am-5.30pm Saturday, closed Sunday and bank holidays
Size: 2,000sq ft
Style: A mid-sized stationery specialist and modern-style post office on a busy high street. Lots of passing trade, and plenty of nearby convenience competitors.
Their magazine display has extended from 4metres to 9metres, including a greater range of specialist titles – a real growth area, Ashwin says. They make a special effort to order titles requested by customers. This has encouraged repeat purchases among shoppers including one mum who home-schools her three boys and is now a weekly customer.
“The benefits of the refit are the branding, purchasing power and a stronger stationery and magazine range,” says Ashwin, who previously had a career as a project manager in the car industry.
Kevin Ransom, a national shop development manager with the NFRN, put the Patels in touch with Post Office Ltd and WH Smith to coordinate the refit of both parts of the business at the same time. Lots of new faces have started appearing in the store now that they offer postal services from 6.30am under the ‘Local’ model.
- Keep an eye out for special seasonal products. Ashwin was sceptical about trying to sell Monopoly’s Swindon edition for £25 last Christmas, but he sold three in the first hour and more than 100 in total
- Don’t just donate to charity, get involved. Rita set up and runs an iPad training course for elderly people in the town. Seventy people attended the first session and everyone knows it’s sponsored by the post office
- Be smart with your range. In the refit, they halved their display of greeting cards. Previously prices ranged from £1.39 to £3, and now they go from £1.79 to £5.29. Year-on-year card sales have risen 10% in value
Knowing they wanted to focus on stationery and confectionery rather than going down the off-licence route, Ashwin decided the WH Smith franchise model was a good option for the business, and it has proved so. Their convenience offering is displayed with great precision under the group’s planograms, and Ashwin keeps a militant eye on stock availability.
There are strict purchasing requirements, but he says the prices are so good he buys about 95% of their stock from WH Smith. Tobacco and some confectionery lines are bought from Booker and Batleys.
Their best promotions have been two-for-£2 on 500ml soft drinks, and their long-running £1.09 or two-for-£2 offer on Bonds sweets.
It has been a steep learning curve since they took over the shop in 2011, but Ashwin and Rita have taken to retailing with gusto. A big challenge initially was learning to manage the cashflow of an independent store along with managing their staff, who they value very highly.
Training is something they take extremely seriously, with their colleagues encouraged to attend regular post office courses.
One staff member is training towards an NVQ in sales and travel excellence, which is about sales techniques and upselling.
“I’ve never been an advocate of the hard sell, but I’ve come to realise that upselling is a service customers want,” says Ashwin.
“It’s about giving your customers the right service in the right environment.”
Their plan now is to grow business at this store and ultimately to expand by buying other sites.