It’s less than eight years since Gary Bilbrough first opened his shop, but in that time he’s added £20,000 a week to his turnover.

Location: Toddington, Bedfordshire

Trading since: August 2007

Staff: 10 part-time

Hours: 7am – 8pm (Mon-Sun)

Style: Located on a main road in a large village. There is a Nisa forecourt store nearby, there no other immediate competitors. There is a strong affluent elderly customer base, but also a growing number of young families in the area.

The Nisa Local in Toddington, Bedfordshire, hit the headlines last month when it received a highly-commended prize at the All Party Parliamentary Small Shops’ Group’s Best Small Shops awards last month. When you walk into the store, you understand why it’s so successful.

A relatively modern building from the outside, the interior has been refitted to give it a ‘village’ look – complete with beams on the ceiling and wooden signage. The store reflects its affluent elderly customer base but also caters for its younger family shoppers.

But it’s not the décor that store manager Gary takes pride in, it’s the store’s ability to support the community and know what real customer service is. He provides a two-hour customer service induction for all members of staff. 

“There is nothing worse than walking into a shop and feeling like you’re a bag of money. I remind my team that it’s our point of difference, and that’s what makes it brilliant – their engagement is natural and never forced,” he says.

Top tips
  1. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there: Gary has his office next to the till so he can do his work while engaging with customers and helping his staff when needed.
  2. Think about what people like: He provides matched promotional offers to increase sales. He is enjoying the resurgence of ale so he’s put that next to the promotional snacks instead of mainstream beer.
  3. The shop floor is your stage: Gary says he and his team have to be at their best on the shop floor to keep customers smiling. He’s even taken it to the road with his personalised Nisa delivery Smart car to attract more attention to the shop.

The store is quite literally a corner shop and Gary is all too aware of the image problem some small stores face. “In the beginning we were only doing about £6,000 a week. To get rid of the ‘corner shop’ image we’ve invested a lot of time in the community and not focused on price. Now we’re making over £26,000 a week,” he says.

Each year, Gary and his team arrange a Christmas party for 100 elderly residents at a local care home, including a buffet, free raffle, and entertainment. They will organise a local school choir to sing old wartime songs, or a nearby theatre group to perform a gala or pantomime for the elderly party-goers.

It isn’t just at Christmas that Gary’s team invests time in the local community. Right around the year the store hosts maths lessons for children, and every year a choir sings outside the store to raise money for homeless charity Crisis.

Gary pulls out a large folder full of thank you cards and letters for the unbelievable range of kind acts he and his staff have carried out. It even includes cards thanking him for sweeping snow out of a customer’s driveway and for delivering products to those who can’t walk to the store.

“Think about how many smiles I get to see in a day?” he says. “It’s more than just running a shop. If you focus on numbers all day, you’ll become miserable.

“Yes, I know that all of this community work will give us a great reputation and more people will come to us because of it.

“But I don’t do it for that. Do you think I’m the village’s Father Christmas each year for money? I do it because I want to.