I can hardly believe that it’s nearly 7 years since we rescued the Shop on the Green from its closing down sale; it’s certainly been an eventful rollercoaster!
First of all, a bit of background.
To be fair, the previous owners (one of whom is my present-day landlord) did a great job. But the business, back then, was a very successful sub-Post Office with Robert Smith as sub-postmaster, who had enjoyed many years as a finance man in the Australian television industry.
Robert’s sister – former headmistress Elizabeth Shore – ran the shop, but when 8 Fordington Green was earmarked as one of the final candidates for the Post Office closure scheme she decided that retirement should be imminent. That was back in 2008.
The formidable siblings kept the shop going without the Post Office (and, therefore, the benefit of a Postmaster’s salary) until the Autumn of 2010, when they finally decided to close. The official (and true) reason was indeed ‘retirement’, but the fact remains that a small stand-alone shop could not, and still cannot, support two full-time salaries in a market that’s surrounded by the aggressive Waitrose, Tesco-owned One Stop – and others. Especially when the shopkeeper faced a daily commute from Swanage!
Which is where we come in.
I’ve got a media and commuting background myself. When my family and I decided that my weekly journey from our home in Dorchester to digs in Swansea, South Wales, was becoming both tedious and untenable, I quit my job as a radio phone-in host and took up some freelance work back here in Dorset. Soon I was ‘moonlighting’ on a small station in Poole that’s now called Hot Radio, but I also did a lot of on-line sales and would often bring my eBay parcels into the then Fordington Post Office. I thought I’d ask Robert if he would like me to do a few shifts, just to top up my bank account during those lean months. (Back in the Seventies, in another life, I’d had plenty of experience as a showroom manager for a large TV rental and hi-fi store.)
So here it was that I learned the retail food business.
In the autumn of 2010 I put a proposal to Robert: “Now your sister’s retired, instead of closing the Shop on the Green, let me run your business for a month when you go to Australia. If it’s still afloat when you come back, you could keep me on as manager!”
Mr.Smith returned, his Australian accent and tan topped-up, took a look around – and told me I might as well buy the business and pay him some rent. And that’s what we’ve been doing ever since.
In case you’re wondering who the other part of the ‘we’ is, she’s my Dorset-born-and-bred other half Vicki, who controls the shop’s finances and payroll. As such, she could be classed as my new boss! (I’m responsible for overseeing all the buying, the sales, the website, the DIY, the deliveries, the forward-planning, the back-pedalling… Arkwright is a name not unknown to me.)
Fortunately for all of us, Vicki has a very good job in Bridport managing the sales office of Britain’s leading plastic cards manufacturing company. Because of her family role as official ‘breadwinner’, the shop is just about sustainable as long as we don’t actually make a loss.
Although under our stewardship the food side of the business has grown subtantially, profits remain modest.
So although I’ve grown the business as a stand-alone operation without the Post Office, I couldn’t do it without Vicki’s boundless energy and help.
Equally vital are daily contributions from my loyal staff – Becky is by far the longest-serving (and suffering) member, and luckily for me she’s a morning person. So we’re financially healthy enough to employ local people, while maintaining an every-growing range of locally-sourced and essential groceries which we manage to sell at more competitive prices than the old business.
With my left ear only half-cocked towards the impending sounds of sympathetic violins, I can tell you that I’m always the last to be paid, and very often I do not pay myself at all.
My right ear is always on the lookout for sustainable, if not profitable, ideas as to where we can take our small, community business in the future. Which is where you come in.
Please complete our survey, with the chance of winning a free bottle of wine (there’s one to be won every week).
In the meantime, here are a few of the things we’ve achieved since that bitterly cold winter of 2010. Deep breath:
Sunday Opening; Hot food all day; a bigger range of local bread and cakes; Tea & coffee to go; A large budget wine selection; Regular home deliveries; Loose pix’n’mix that’s now legendary among the kids; Sunday (and now Saturday) papers; A range of local cheeses, not just Ford Farm Coastal – although we now cut that off the block!; Fresh meat; Local ham instead of Mattisons, Marshfield Devon ice cream as well as Craig’s; Local chutneys by Bob – and local Dorset Honey from another Bob. Plus soft drinks and branded sweets that are cheaper than One Stop, alongside a range of 2-for-a-pound sweet & savoury snacks to satisfy every happy shopper’s hunger pangs.
We’ve raised hundreds of pounds for local and national charities, too – including Julia’s House, Dorchester Hospital’s Kingfisher Ward and Autism Wessex.
Coming soon – a special page devoted to recently-introduced products and a new range for the New Year.
These are busy times ahead – so let me wish you ‘season’s greetings’, whether or not you live in Fordington. Could I also take this opportunity to thank everyone who spends subtantially in the shop for helping to keep us going.