Since her first retail job when she was 13 years old, Samantha Ackland-Jones had always dreamt of running a traditional sweet shop.
But with sugar becoming the focus of Government policy, she focused on her passion for authentic food and decided that an ‘adult sweet shop’ would be the answer.
Samantha brought all the lessons that she had learnt from more than 30 years working in retail to bear in designing her first independent business – The Village Deli, which opened two months ago.
People and community are an important aspect of the business plan she created with partner Paul and son Sam. A village location was important to be part of the neighbourhood.
“It is a village with a heart, and the empty shop with all its dust and dirt gave me a hug when I first went inside,” Samantha says.
The second community she caters for is her suppliers.
She set out to create a store that would be totally different from any of the supermarkets. No mainstream brands are present as she wanted only local producers to travel with her on her new retail journey.
“My definition of local may seem a stretch to some, as I include all of Sussex and the borders of Kent and Hampshire,” she says.
“I was born in Cornwall, so have included some great Cornish producers, as they feel local to me.”
She, along with Paul and Sam, undertook the search for producers in the months before the planned opening. The goal was to search out the best small businesses that met her high standards in quality and ethical operations. She visited almost all of her suppliers before bringing them on board.
Samantha says: “We have tastings every week, and I have started to invite suppliers in to be part of this. It’s well worth doing and results in a great boost to sales.”
A favourite supplier is Nutbourne Growers, which includes heritage varieties in its range of tomatoes.
These add to the differences Samantha ensures her store offers compared to the nearby competition.
The knowledge gained about all the suppliers has been made into marketing narrative used to ensure they can tell great local produce stories to customers with ease and passion.
There are no shelf-edge labels detailing each line as there is not enough space to cram all the information shared with every customer who visits the store. Instead, knowing the provenance of every product stocked is key to the store’s growing success.
“After three decades working in some great retail businesses, the favourite part of my new venture is that no one is telling me what to do.
“The cherry on top of it all are our returning customers. They make me super excited,” Samantha says.
- Put your customers first: “Customers are at the centre of all that we do. After two months, we are already on first-name terms with a growing number of our customers,” Samantha says.
Seek professional advice: “Asking Environmental Health and Trading Standards for help to ensure that my business is being run to the required standards was an important part of the store’s foundation,” she says.
Keep your customers happy: “New lines keep being added to the range as the seasonal produce sells through. We also regularly move the free-standing racking and chilled cabinets around to vary the shop’s flow,” says Samantha.