West Dean Stores Community Village Shop & Tearoom
Church Lane, West Dean, Chichester, PO18 0QY
Retailers often talk about the importance of word of mouth to the success of their business, but building up that reputation is easier said than done. For Amy Bushell, manager of the West Dean Stores & Tearoom in Chichester, West Sussex, it starts with appreciating your shop’s role in the community.
“It’s not easy spreading word of mouth, but we have a lot of really nice and enthusiastic customers who want to see a little shop do well,” Amy explains. “Shops like this are a dying breed, but it’s vital to keep them going, as a lot of people rely on them.”
For Amy, who has managed the store for two and a half years, building a relationship with the community starts with stocking things people need, even if they don’t give the biggest margins.
“Newspapers are still a big area for us. If someone comes in for a newspaper, they’ll probably buy something else as well. But if we don’t have their paper, they’ll walk out and not spend a penny,” Amy explains. “If we didn’t have newspapers, I think we’d lose a lot of customers.”
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Getting involved in local events is another part of Amy’s drive to keep the store at the centre of its community. At the start of the summer, they held a village day at the store. “We had a barbecue and a pudding competition,” Amy explains. “There was also a raffle, and we donated the earnings to a local charity. The weather wasn’t great, but other than that, the event was really successful. We sold a lot of burgers and sausages.”
The shop, in rural West Sussex, is four miles away from the nearest town. Its customers are people from local villages, as well as cyclists and walkers from nearby routes and paths. The tearoom was only added a few years ago, but it quickly became a vital part of the business’s success.
“Adding the tearoom has been really important for us, it gives us the driving force to keep the shop going,” she admits. “If we only had one or the other, we wouldn’t be so lucky. Because they run off each other, though, it keeps people coming back.
“We have a lot of returning customers who come in nearly every day. Some come for a coffee and bacon sandwich, others just to do their daily shop in the store.”
The tearoom, added about three years ago, creates follow-on sales in the shop. “We stock locally produced jams and chutneys, which we also use in our kitchen,” Amy explains.
“If someone has a cheese-and-chutney sandwich in our tearoom, and likes it, they can buy a jar of the chutney to take home with them. We do the same with our teas and coffees.”
The menu for the tearoom is kept small, with seasonal changes every five or six months. For the store, Amy aims to focus on restocking little and often the things she knows her customers are looking for. This helps her keep on top of what’s in stock while cutting down wastage.
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“If someone asks for something, I’m more than happy to try it out. If it doesn’t sell, we won’t order it again,” says Amy. “Because we’re small, we can get one case of something to see how well it does. We’ve had some big successes with this trial-and-error approach, such as the jams and chutneys, which fly off the shelves.”
One of the biggest changes since Amy came on board two years ago was a major refit of the store in November 2017.
“We changed the layout to make it flow better between the tearoom and the shop. Before, it was rather disjointed, and required a lot of effort from our staff when it was busy,” Amy explains.
“There used to be a lot of islands and shelving units all over the place. Now, it’s all in one. All our fridges are in a row, as are our shelving units.
“People can walk through our shop without having a load of obstacles in the way, which has made it better for staff and customers.”
Amy worked in hospitality before she took over at West Dean, and this shapes how she manages the store. “Because we’re so small, we do whatever we can in the two minutes people are in the shop to make their day,” she explains. “If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have as many people come in.”