Adapt and react

“We’ve gone from a sleepy village deli to an online shop almost overnight,” says Samantha Ackland-Jones, from The Village Deli in Storrington, Sussex. 

“It’s a new challenge for us. We had to change our approach and we’re now aiming to be a one-stop shop for the community, but one that only does delivery.”

When Samantha first set up the business, she had a clear vision of what she wanted it to be, and what it would offer the community. “I’d imagined the shop in my head before we’d even found a building for it,” she reveals. 

Although the coronavirus has changed those priorities, she still tries to stick to those original principles as much as possible. “We wanted to be a deli that focused on selling products from local and artisan companies,” she says. 

“I’d worked in retail before, in a host of different businesses, and from that experience I decided on the kind of shop I wanted to run. So, we worked extensively at researching and building relationships with smaller, more unique suppliers.”

As soon as lockdown started, Samantha decided to shut the shop to encourage social distancing. On top of that, she’s added new products. 

“We’ve teamed up with a local farm shop so we can offer fruit and veg, and a local butchers so we can offer meat. This is helping our customers. They can order what they want from us, and we’re supporting local businesses,” she says.

For Samantha, the new situation is, of course, a challenge, but it’s important to look on the bright side. 

“We have to be more savvy with our orders, but it also means we’re working more closely with suppliers than we did before. 

“We need to focus on the positives, rather than dwelling on the doom and gloom,” she says. “It’s a regeneration moment, an opportunity to look at new ways of doing things, and new products.”

What I do well

The biggest achievement for Samantha recently has been switching to a shop that only does deliveries without sacrificing what makes it unique.

“Our window always has an eye-catching display in it to attract customers. For instance, we recently had a beekeeper’s hat in there to advertise our local honey,” she explains. 

“Now, it’s displaying that we do local delivery, and how customers can use it. We’ll email the customers a product list, then they can call us up and we’ll walk around the shop and gather their order,” she continues. “It means if we’re out of something they want, we can resolve it there and then.

“Once we’ve collected it all, we’ll pack it all up and I’ll deliver it to them. We drop it off at their door, then step back two metres so they can come out and pick it up.”

Where my biggest profits come from

A big standout for Samantha’s shop has always been the selection of hampers they sell, and this hasn’t changed, despite the pandemic.

“We’ve done them for a while,” she says. “We make our hampers bespoke for every customer – even when we make up some demonstration ones, 90% of customers still want to build their own. 

“They get to choose what goes in them, although we’ll help them with suggestions, of course – or ask them questions to help them find the right product for them.”

The hampers have now taken on a new importance because of social distancing. “People still want to give their loved ones gifts for birthdays or just to show they’re thinking of them, but they can’t. Our hampers are giving them a way to do that – they can pick something unique and then we’ll deliver it,” she says.

The challenges I face

Working with artisan and local suppliers has given The Village Deli Storrington a key point of difference, but building these networks and relationships takes a lot of hard work.

“I knew what I wanted, so I went to every food festival or event I could,” says Samantha. “I was always looking for the quirky companies, the small independent ones who stood out.

“Then I’d just go up and tell them I wanted to stock their product, and asked who I should speak to. 

“Most of the suppliers I work with I’ve sat down and had a cup of tea with, and if not, then I’ve at least had a long chat on the phone with them.”

Relationships with local suppliers are really paying off. “They want to support us as much as we want to support them – we’re getting through the crisis together,” she adds.

What I’m working on now

Despite current uncertainty, Samantha still has an eye on what the store will do after the crisis has ended.

“We really want to step up the food to go in store,” she says. “We’re planning to get a hot potato oven so we can start offering breakfasts. We also set up a little seating area so customers could sit and drink tea while they were in the store. That’s gone now and been replaced with fruit and veg, but we’ll bring it back.”

She is also working on attracting more cyclists to the store. “We’re halfway along the South Downs cycling route, so we’re going to put a bike rack outside. We’re going to team up with the local cycle repair shop – they’ll give customers a coffee voucher they can use in our shop while they’re waiting for their bike to be serviced. It’s another way to spread the message and collaborate with local businesses.”

The changes and their impact

“Now we’re using Facebook a lot more and it’s made a big difference,” Samantha explains. “We’re posting more frequently, and changing the type of things we post.

“For instance, it played a big role in promoting our hampers. We had a lot of customers who were seeing them online and then contacting us asking how they could order one.”

As customers no longer visit the store, Samantha is also relying on Facebook to get the message across about what’s available. 

“I’m putting recipes up – I’m taking three ingredients we sell in the store and using them to make my dinner, then I’m taking a photograph and posting it on Facebook,” she explains. “I’ve also started doing videos – virtual shop tours explaining what’s available in a section. Our first was a hit and got loads of likes and orders from it. We’re planning to do the rest of the shop soon.”

How I stay competitive

Samantha is clear that adapting her store is crucial to making sure it can continue through the current upheaval and uncertainty. For this, she firmly believes that being pragmatic is key.

“Although we still do our best to stick to local products, we’ve had to move away a little to make sure we’re giving the community what it needs,” she reveals.

“For instance, we’re now stocking chickpeas and different types of beans from suppliers from further afield, because you can’t source them locally. However, we still go for the best quality and most ethical products we can find, so we always check for Soil Association labels or organic certification labels.”

Where possible, she always puts The Village Deli spin on things. “We’re getting pasta from Italy – it’s handmade by an Italian family, but we’re complementing it with sauces made locally.” 


HOW The Village Deli… has adapted to shopper needs

Home deliveries only

“As soon as the government announced the lockdown, we closed the shop and switched our focus to home delivery,” says Samantha. “It was the safest thing for the shop and our customers in the situation.”

Simple to use

“We want to give everyone locally the chance to continue shopping at our store,” says Samantha. “We kept the process as simple as possible. We’ll email customers a list of what we have, and they call us up and we’ll go around the shop picking what they want.”

Customer service is still the key

“Customer service has always been crucial to our shop, and talking to people about the products we have. I try to continue this when we’re talking to shoppers on the phone – we’ll talk about the products, what we have and what’s missing.”

Going virtual

“We’re having to adapt to the fact people can no longer come in to the shop, which is where we used to do most of our promotion” explains Samantha. “That’s why we started doing video tours of different sections of the store, so people can see what we’re offering.”


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