When Bruce and Emma Warden took over their local shop in the picturesque village of Stelling Minnis, Kent, almost 20 years ago, they knew they could vastly improve it.

The facts
  • Location: Stelling Minnis, Canterbury, Kent
  • Trading since: Sept 1995
  • Staff: Six part-time
  • Hours: 8am-8pm Mon-Fri; 9am-1pm Sun
  • Size: 900sq ft
  • Style: A rural convenience store and post office at the heart of the local community, with no immediate competition.

The previous owners had a weak offering of budget lines and out-of-date fruit and veg, and the books, Bruce says, looked awful.

However, the past two decades haven’t been an easy ride. In their first two years, they doubled their turnover – but the business wasn’t making a profit.

“We had no experience in retailing,” explains Bruce. “We didn’t even know you didn’t necessarily have to go by the RRP.”

He says they were only putting 10% on top of fruit and veg prices, which was lost in wastage, and the bread delivery charge was eating up their margin.

“We put in a lot of effort for no return.”

While the Wardens have no immediate competition, the introduction of a Sainsbury’s Local about three years ago on the road linking the village to Canterbury has taken its toll on the store.

A Waitrose also opened eight miles away on the same route last year. “We really noticed a drop in evening sales following the opening of that,” Bruce says.

Top tips
  1. Forward-sell deals: Bruce and Emma know which products are coming up on promotion, so they talk to their customers about them and take orders. Most recently they took orders for cases of Jacob’s Creek.
  2. Learn from others: By visiting retailer Bintesh Amin, Bruce picked up a great idea on how to hide a pillar in the shop, and make the store look bigger by covering it in mirrors.
  3. Involve your shoppers: Bruce asked loyal customers for their feedback on his plans for a full refit of his store.

He admits they had become disillusioned but decided this year to give the shop a final overhaul. It started with installing new refrigeration into the shop.

“The present – and the future – is in chilled,” says Bruce. A visit to Bintesh Amin’s Londis in Blean, just outside Canterbury, saw their ideas expanding beyond simply installing new refrigeration into a partial refit.

Bruce says: “Through the trade press, we saw that Binny’s store was something of a shining star, so we took a day off to visit the shop. He reaffirmed some of the things we had planned about how to move forward and spoke to us about being part of a symbol group.”

Bruce and Emma’s shop has spent all but four years – a short stint with Spar – as an unaffiliated store.

“Our visit to Binny’s store was when we got serious about looking for a supplier,” says Bruce.

The Wardens realised they would not be able to stock and run the business how they wanted with just weekly deliveries and trips to the cash & carry.

“We found out about Nisa’s offer for retailers who can become part of the group, but without all of the signage,” says Bruce.

As a result, the couple took the plunge and signed up to work with Nisa – a partnership they hope will make the shop a great success.

The new shop opened on November 1. “Most of the village turned out to see us,” says Bruce.

“Our sales are well up – around 22% year on year – and the feedback has been amazing. Having spent 19 years doing our best, the stuff that Nisa has enabled us to do has been great.

He points to a deal on family farm-assured chickens at £2.75 each – the store sold more than 100 in the two weeks that it had the offer.

“So many customers say they can do their whole shop here, which they were not able to do before the refit,” says Emma.

It’s early days for the new look shop, but Emma and Bruce are positive that the refit, combined with their work with Nisa, will set Stelling Minnis Stores up for success.

“I can’t remember the last time we were so excited about the future,” says Bruce.