Moving in what some might call a ‘backwards’ motion – from online to bricks and mortar retailing – Duncan Ellson and wife Sarah offer local food, quality produce and provide key services to their Shropshire community.
It is down to these defining factors that Longden Village Stores has been crowned 2016 Regional Champion of the Farm Shop and Deli Awards after just two years in business and despite only having 345sq ft to work with.
Nestled in the small village of Longden, near Shrewsbury, the idea is to keep things simple, letting the community – not profits – drive the store forward. Shelving and racks are wooden and instead of an EPoS system, a traditional till and great mental arithmetic can “do the job just fine”, the couple say.
Working with more than 50 local producers (including vegetables grown by the nearby school and nursery), their mission was to challenge the way supermarkets determine the quality of food. Particularly impressive is the fact they grow their own vegetables to sell in the shop – 80% of the eggs on sale are from their own garden and, until very recently, the couple made their own sandwiches to go.
This focus is twinned with a commitment to working with other local businesses: “All of our ale is from local breweries – we have seven or eight in the area – and the cider comes from local orchards as well,” Duncan says.
Also, the couple recently commissioned a local caterer to provide takeaway sandwiches and offer fresh pies, pasties and sausage rolls to update their offer.
This aim of providing fresh and trustworthy food was a result of Duncan’s previous role as a logistics manager at a food factory, before it was closed down and he was subsequently made redundant.
“The factory was producing food for the main supermarkets and I got fed up of the way the big stores were dictating the quality of the food,” says Duncan. “We wanted to promote good quality, sustainable, local food.”
Equipped with this knowledge of the food industry – not to mention experience of reducing wastage and calculating costs – the pair launched their online ‘farm shop’ in 2012 with the aim of sourcing all products locally.
Then, in 2014, they were approached by the former postmaster who asked them if they would be interested in taking over his shop as he was retiring – enabling a vital lifeline for such a rural area to continue.
Duncan and his wife gave themselves 12 months to get the business to a level where it was turning over enough for them to make a living. In fact, they achieved this target within just a few months.
“We did better than we expected,” says Duncan. “Unlike the supermarkets who are in the game to make a killing, our aim is simply to make enough to earn a living.”
Other than pricemarked packs of branded items such as tins of beans, the shop doesn’t offer many promotions. Instead, the store continuously tries to deliver quality food at affordable prices.
“Our sliced ham, which is again sourced locally, is cheaper than the stuff in the supermarkets,” says the couple.
They add: “The average margin is 20%, and we aim to get a bit more. We also try and make sure the farmers are getting their fair share too.”
The shop tries to offer items which might be harder to find in the bigger grocery stores. For instance, you can still find standard Hartley’s strawberry jam, but you will also find an extensive range of locally-sourced jams boasting a more exotic combination flavours such as apple pie, gooseberry & ginger, and rhubarb & fig.
Community plays a big part in how the couple operates the business too. The shop has a post office and small newspaper round, which while not huge profit drivers, are vital services for customers and which drive footfall.
The next step is for the couple to bring their website www.shropshiresown.co.uk up-to-date so it can work hand-in-hand with the store and hopefully keep driving the business forward.
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