Previously the site of an old forge, Chaz Chahal has transformed a former newsagents in the tiny village of Inkberrow into a Simply Fresh that has become the heart of the community. Rachel Barr reports

_DSC8118If the popularity of the bench outside is anything to go by, the residents of the Worcestershire village of Inkberrow have already taken the  local Simply Fresh convenience store to its heart. 

The store opened in April, almost two years after experienced retailer Chaz Chahal submitted plans for the site. “I had been looking for somewhere new for a while and this location ticked all the boxes,” the 35-year-old, who also owns two Costcutter stores in Bromsgrove and Kidderminster, says.

“The village has an ageing population but there is also a new estate being built and, as we are on a main road, we get sales reps and business people driving past,” he adds.

Getting the most out of these three different demographics was always going to be a tough ask from the small newsagent Chaz found. “The old shop was 300sq ft, there was not much you could do with it,” he says.

So, soon after finalising the deal – in summer 2014 – Chaz submitted plans for a 1,000sq ft convenience store which better focused on the types of customers he wanted to serve. This included the elderly residents who relied on the store (the closest shop is more than three miles away) but also young mums on the neighbouring estate and business people passing through.

The first priority was ensuring the store didn’t close at all during the renovations, making it available to older customers who couldn’t easily get to the next village to shop. For 10 days, it operated from the stock room.

Attracting new customers would mean building a store that could offer them something different from the traditional newsagent it was replacing.  However, this meant choosing the right partner to work with.

“I went with Simply Fresh because of its farm shop and deli feel. Something else could have had an alien, urban feel to it,” he says.

I paid £3,000 extra to get the lighting just right

No expense was then spared with creating a bright, modern convenience store that would project this image, with layout and colour used to make the space feel welcoming.

“I paid £3,000 extra to get the lighting just right. A lot of the fixtures are wood and in the evening, the lights give the whole store a glow.

“As the ceiling is lower at the back, we then painted it black at the front of the shop and white at the back to make it feel more open,” he says.

The next stage was building the right range and, here, Chaz credits a big part of the store’s popularity with the locally-sourced and independent brands he stocks.

As well as this, the store stocks artisan jams and fresh fish from Cornwall-based company Matthew Steven and Son.“I have around 10 different independent suppliers for more local and fresh products,” he says. “The bestsellers are products from a local bakery. They sell out really quickly.”

“The local brands are trusted. Worcester honey, which is more expensive than the branded Rowse honey, sells better because of it,” he says.

Chaz says he wants these products to leave his customers “inspired” to stop by and fill their baskets.

_DSC8119But he also wants the larger store to meet the everyday needs of young families on the new estate. “I have focused on food for now and food for later,” he says, while crediting his existing relationship with Costcutter for allowing him to build a great range of branded bestsellers and a great price.

“Fruit and veg are doing really well too and are fresh, good quality and reasonably priced,” Chaz says, adding: “people are very price conscious”.

Chaz says the lack of direct local competition means he could easily hike prices, but that would threaten the store’s long-term growth and its place in the community.

Employing 12 additional members of staff from the area is another clear sign of how important the store’s place is in the village, as is the store’s name “Simply Fresh: The Forge Shop” – referencing the store it replaces and the history of the area. Yet it’s the seating outside the door, where locals can come together, which really shows how much this store now means to Inkberrow.

“We put the benches at the front for mums and the elderly or people who want to stop for a coffee,” he says. “It’s become a real meeting point for the whole village.”

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