Store owners Mar and Paul Mannion are making the big trends work for them in their four-century-old rural shop.
Behind a rustic appearance, the store utilises a quality food-to-go offering, fresh bean-to-cup coffee and an expertly-run post office to reach an audience beyond the small hamlet in which they are based.
Paul tells Retail Express: “We’ve added a deli counter, premium ready meals and a new coffee machine that we own outright, but our biggest success has been food to go.”
The offering attracts a variety of tradespeople to the shop who take time out of their day to get hold of the local pasties, sandwiches, pork pies and Filipino lunch meals made in-store and in a local bakery.
Paul says: “We initially had someone who was bringing in the food to go from outside, so we developed an idea of what worked, but we noticed the lines weren’t great and we knew we could do it better.
“It was a learning curve and having an external supplier definitely helped at first, but we knew better quality was the key to growing the food-to-go section. Since we took over, sales have increased
by 20-30% and the pasties from a local bakery continued to do well.”
He adds that a sign outside, leaflets and Facebook advertising helped to make customers aware of the new features, but it was word of mouth that worked best.
“It is the best promotion a store can receive,” he says.
We have local jams, milk, honey, eggs, bread, cheese, meats, fruit and veg
Another stand-out aspect of the store is its ranging, using Booker to cover the basics and a network of local and online sources to deliver differentiation and higher margins.
“Working with a lot of different suppliers for local produce does require a lot of engagement, we have local jams, milk, honey, eggs, bread, cheese, meats, fruit and veg, and we’ve sourced our card ranging from online rather than from a rep,” he says.
“The result is that people travel further to visit us.”
The same goes for the store’s community post office counter. By hiring an experienced former sub-postmaster, Mar and Paul say they can ensure a better service for customers, especially on complex transactions. “We are getting visits from people in other villages with post offices where the service hasn’t been right.”
With strong sales and margin growth, Mar, a former coffee shop worker, and Paul,
a former postman, show that being new to the industry isn’t a barrier to success.
“It was challenging. We didn’t get a great deal of support from the previous owner – it was ‘here’s the keys, get going’. We picked it up as we went along and learnt from our mistakes,” he says.
It wasn’t just the industry that was new, it was the area too. But three years on, these Londoners are firmly settled in the sticks. “It was baffling at first, people are just so much more friendly, but we love it now. I’ve never had a town shop, but I’d imagine it can be hard with such high footfall to have that interaction with the customers. In here, if you get involved with the community, they support you back.”
Hit the ground running: When taking over the running of an existing store, Paul advises: “Make sure you get the support of the previous owners. Seek assurance and ask about the details so you understand the routine.”
Know your council: Keeping your ear to the ground can help you plan for your store. “Being a councillor or even just aware of what goes on at council meetings is useful because you know what’s happening,” says Paul.
Keep an eye on deliveries: Paul explains: “An early challenge was delivery accuracy. I assumed what we received from suppliers would be what we ordered, but that is not always the case.”