Becoming the heart of your community is not something that happens overnight. It takes hard work, dedication and, above all, the passion to create a community hub for your customers.

Building strong community relationships is one way independent retailers can really soar above the multiples and increase profit and visibility at the same time.

For Olwen and David Edwards, the owners of the Holybourne Shop and Post Office in Alton, providing a focused, caring service to customers is paramount.

Not only do they personally know nearly all of their customers, but they know what exactly what to stock and what makes the village tick.
Serving not only Alton itself, but all the surrounding villages, is no easy task, but one that the husband and wife team take to with pride and passion.

When Olwen says “without a shop there would be no heart in the village” it is clearly a true reflection of how highly she regards their community presence.

Their picturesque Grade II-listed shop offers fresh and chilled food, home-baked bread and a post office.

Tony Parker home delivery customer manager, and Lizzie Unsworth, retail customer manager from News International, visited the store to find out what exactly it is that has transformed this quaint village shop into the pillar of the community.

Top Tips

  • Update the canopy, update window posters and install A-boards and wall posters to draw people in.
  • Knocking on doors and canvassing for HND and home delivery is a great way to get to know people and increase your customer base.
  • Leafleting will increase customer awareness of what you have to offer.

1 Play a key role in your community by sponsoring a sports team, getting involved with charity events or acting as a point of contact

The shop is the first port of call for villagers for shopping and also for neighbourhood issues such as lost property and anti-social incidents. The Edwards and their staff work with the police so that incidents, such as graffiti and lost property, can be followed up.

“This kind of service really is welcomed by the community and the police,” says Olwen, who came up the idea of a community book where grumbles and suggestions could be passed on to local officers.

Although the couple do not like to publicise the fact, they regularly sponsor the local agriculture show, school activities and donate funds to the pony club.

The couple support their community centre, disability and OAP groups, and have recently remodelled their shop to cater for disabled customers from a nearby college.

The Edwards campaigned hard to have a post office in their store and rallied around to get petitions signed and support from their local MP.

The store’s door windows were crammed with community notices and adverts for local events. Lizzie Unsworth comments on how useful these were. “It really spells out how the community use the shop, seeing all those notices. What it is lacking is focus and ads describing the services that the shop offer.”

2 Sell or support local products and initiatives

A village shop wouldn’t be the same without fresh homemade produce, and the Holybourne Shop and Post Office is no exception.

When you enter the shop there is an impressive display of Olwen’s home-baked bread alongside locally made cakes.

It’s this kind of offering that keeps people coming back, says Olwen.

“I get up early so that I can sort out the papers and bake the bread and doughnuts, and they seem to be really popular.”

Olwen would like to sell more of the villagers’ freshly made cakes, but her hands are tied because of red tape specifying that the shop owners must visit the produce maker’s cooking premises.

The store also offers a collection service for dry cleaning and shoe repairs.

3 Offer additional services to help your community such as home news or grocery delivery

One of the best moves the Edwards ever made was to concentrate on their home news delivery service as a way to reach the wider community. Since they took over the shop 13 years ago the shop is delivering four times as many orders.

Every day the couple deploy an army of news deliverers made up of seven adults and 60 youngsters to service an area of around 40 square miles.

The shop delivers groceries for free to homes within a six-mile radius and now even Social Services recommend the shop for home delivery to their elderly or disabled patients.

“We look after our oldies because we have a lot of time for them,” Olwen says. “We even help look after the 96-year-old lady next door, who is housebound, whenever her relatives go away.”

Earlier this year Olwen and David earned extra brownie points by delivering newspapers from 6am to 6pm during a blizzard. They said that customers were astounded that they’d gone to the effort, when even the milkman and postman had given up.
For more store galleries go to See My Shop

See more of Olwen’s store below