|Orford General Store - Nominated for National Village Shop of the Year|
The beating heart of any village is the village shop. In Orford we are privileged to have one of the best. That’s not just my opinion; The Orford General Store has been shortlisted for the Countryside Alliance’s Village Shop of the Year award. This week I caught up with the owner, Penny Teale to find out what her formula was.
DSFH: “You took over the Orford village shop a year ago. But 600 rural shops close in England every year, so my first question has to be, are you mad?”
PT: “I don’t think so. I gave up a lucrative career in corporate retailing to take on this business. This isn’t a hobby, it’s a livelihood. You don’t make that kind of decision without doing a huge amount of research and being pretty sure that you can make a go of it. Many of those failing shops may not have been run very well or with a keen eye on costs and the customer offer, but I realized that it was possible to take the things that supermarkets do well and apply them to a small business. I used my retail experience to put in solid processes and apply up to date technology. I try to keep on top of my stock control and my market as Tesco or Sainsburys would, but I am able to combine that with a business that has great local product and personality.”
As if to back this up she starts to spout a range of facts and figures.
“My catchment area is 5 or 6 miles. People come from 5 villages and those villages contain 2000 people”
DSFH: “But what about that market? You’ve actually got a number of very different constituencies within a village like this?”
PT: “Three. (She nods her head) There are the local people who rely on the village shop for everyday provisions. They buy little and often. They are very price conscious and quite conservative. They are really important because they are here all year round. I actually keep a close watch on supermarket prices. We can’t afford to be too far out of sync. Even though a trip to Woodbridge or Saxmundham is likely to cost £5 or £6 when you add up the fuel and total cost of running a car, people don’t look at it that way. Also supermarkets aren’t as cheap as you think. They use a variety of tricks such as hi-lo pricing. They put things on the shelf at a high price so they can then discount them later.”
“Then there’s the ‘second homers’ and visitors or what I call the ‘four and threes’, people who call Orford home but in reality they spend half the week in London. They are almost the exact opposite. Price is less important to them but they demand quality and they want to be delighted by the range, local product and high quality veggies. The third group are die-hard Tesco or Waitrose shoppers, who dip in and out around their weekly shop.
DSFH: “So is there a conflict in serving such different needs? After all you have to decide what you give shelf space to?”
PT: “Not really. I use the ‘good, better, best’ rule to all of the ranges. For instance I re-jigged the wine section. Now you can buy a bottle of wine for as little as £3, £5, or up to £15 depending on your budget. Take canned produce like beans; we’ve got Happy Shopper in the ‘good’ range, Heinz in the ‘better’ range and Epicure in the ‘best’, for people who want something different. So everyone can find something suitable.”
DSFH: “So what are your best sellers?”
PT: “We do sell an awful lot of pies! Locally made homemade pies just seem to fly off the shelves. But the Deli section generally does ever so well”
DSFH: “You touched on it briefly but a village shop in a place like Orford can almost be regarded as a social service as much as a business. Is that a double edged sword?”
PT: “Not at all. You are right, we are often the first to notice if an elderly customer doesn’t pop in, and you get some people who just come in for a chat, but that makes us a sort of communications hub. From a business perspective it’s a privileged position. Customers do expect you to remember their names though. Everyone knows who I am, so it can be a real challenge remembering theirs!”
DSFH: “You carry a lot of local produce. How important is that?”
PT: “Absolutely crucial! As a retailer I want to know the provenance of the food I sell. If a bag of potatoes were harvested from the field in Leiston yesterday afternoon I can be pretty sure that they will be fresh and the customer will be happy. But it’s more than that. I’ve now got over 20 suppliers within a fifteen mile radius (and growing). 30% of my shelf space is allocated to local products. Being local is part of the brand that differentiates us from the supermarket chains. But Suffolk is a great food-producing county with some wonderful local products. As a retailer of course I want to tap in to that.”
DSFH: “So did you find local suppliers were ready and prepared to supply a local, small business?”
PT: “Most of them were very enthusiastic but with some we have had to work together on things like packaging or branding.”
DSFH: “You actually run a portfolio of businesses in the village don’t you? Is that part of a strategy?”
PT: “Absolutely. There’s The General Store, The Suffolk Butcher and Penny’s Café. They are all distinct brands that will allow us to do different things with them. But it’s also about making Orford into a ‘destination food village’. After all, we don’t get any passing trade out here. But the other businesses in Orford: the smokehouses, the bakery, pubs, hotel and the craft shop all contribute to make it somewhere people will consciously come to. We get customers now who regularly come from a wider catchment area to visit us."
|Penny's Cafe - Helping to make Orford into a Destination Food Village|
DSFH: “But how much can you really expand the market? Ultimately you are restricted by demographics aren’t you?”
PT: “A lot of people do come in to the area: second homers, day trippers and so on. Trade in a place like Orford is very seasonal, but the thing is to extend the season. We are working with the Orford Business Association to do just that. I’ve held ‘tasting events’ for wine and local products and we have a Carol singing planned for the 22nd of December. There’s a lot more events planned for next year.”
DSFH: “So the future of the village shop is bright is it?”
PT: “Well I am ahead of schedule according to my business plan. Year one was all about getting the basics sorted out, but this year will be about growth: more tastings, expanding the range, building a website.”
DSFH: “And is Orford a unique location or would your treatment work in other village shops?”
PT: “The model will work in other locations, if the timing and opportunities come up. But that’s in the future, Christmas is the immediate focus.”