When a buyer couldn’t be found for the local shop in a small parish in the New Forest, the community stepped in to run the store for the people, by the people.
Local people raised £120,000, secured National Lottery funding and constructed a purpose-built community shop that also appeals to tourists.
Describing the store’s journey, store manager Julie Bottone tells Retail Express: “When we first opened in this building we were on a roller coaster and it felt like we never got off that. We kept saying it will calm down, but it never did and that’s great. I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved.”
With four miles of country roads between the store and its nearest competitor, Woodgreen Community Shop provides the Lottery, a post office, goods delivery and community outreach programmes to the 400 nearby houses and villages further afield. “Our older customers would find it difficult to reach a shop without us. They know they can always ring me if there’s a problem. That’s what I like – it’s a real community,” says Julie.
As part of the store’s Lottery funding, 15% of its sales have to be from products made, grown or processed within the county or no more than 30 miles away. It’s a target Julie is proud to have exceeded. “Today we’re up to 47 local suppliers and 28% of our sales are from local produce,” she says. This includes poultry, wine, beer, preserves, flour, fruit juice and chocolate.
Alongside these premium local products, the store also stocks value options to meet all of the community’s needs, and also tries to reflect changing shopping habits. Julie explains: “More and more we are finding that people are splitting their shopping between stores.
“People’s lives are so busy now, they just want something that’s convenient.”
The store benefits from strong seasonal trends, with hikers, cyclists and campers making the summer months vital to the store’s ongoing success. “Tourists will spend a little bit more because they are on holiday,” she says. “When the good weather starts, I know we need to have a good range of soft drinks, wine and beer all served cold and ready to go, and barbecue packs to meet their needs.”
With a committee making key store decisions and organising frequent local events and in-store campaigns, the shop capitalises on knowledge of community trends, by responding with regular changes. Julie says: “We have a horticultural show with a home-craft section and recipes that people compete on. I have to look at the show schedule because I know whatever is on it is what people will be coming in here to find.
“I remember getting caraway seeds – something we’d struggle to sell at any other time, but they sold very quickly.”
Julie says it’s a skill all convenience stores can implement. She says: “It’s not just about what’s going on today, but what is going on next month or next season. I learnt all the time to be thinking ‘what’s the next thing?’”
Overstock key lines
While it’s important to reduce wastage, some lines could do reputational damage if out of stock. Regarding turkey orders, Julie says: “I always order spares, just in case. It’s so important to customers.”
Trust your instinct
Julie says: “When I first started I didn’t have any retail experience whatsoever and I definitely made a few mistakes, but over the years you learn and you have a sense for what will sell.”
Standing out from the crowd
Julie takes inspiration from other stores to stand out. She says: “We wanted our store to be a bit special, and we want others to think of it that way too, but we are still the place to come to for baked beans as well.”