Many Congratulations to the Winner of this year’s Community Rural Retailer of the year, The Heath Stores at Horsmonden. Quite an achievement given that Kate and Andy Mills are relatively new to retailing. Their journey began when Andy took voluntary redundancy from Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer in 2010. During a visit to Andy’s parents a few months later Andy’s father happened to mention that the village stores was still unsold despite being on the market for over a year and the community were getting concerned that they might lose their village shop. Kate and Andy immediately saw this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity to realise their dream of returning to Horsmenden, despite initial reservations the more the couple discussed the idea the more it felt it was meant to be and that it would happen. And indeed it did! September 2011 they found themselves the proud owners of Heath Stores, Horsmenden and now just over 3 years later they have won the coveted title of Community Rural Retailer 2014 It was very apparent from the comments we received on some of the customer voting slips that despite being relative new comers The Heath Stores have become the centre of the community …..
- I am filled with admiration for their dedication, hard work and all they do for our village.
- The best improvement to our village for 30 years!
- Heath Stores is in a word brilliant, good deli, good bakery, good everything
One aspect of The Heath Stores which particularly impressed the judges was Kate and Andy’s commitment to local suppliers, currently stocking in excess of 30 local producers goods. This is obviously great for the economy of Kent. They also provide 20 part time jobs for locals and have a number of youngsters working for them which is also fantastic for the ‘local’ economy. They are also very accomplished at raising awareness and keeping their customers interested in local food by making a different local supplier ‘ supplier of the month’ in their monthly newsletter and by offering tastings of that suppliers foods throughout the month in the shop.
About a year ago the Village Post master decided to retire and Andy and Kate toyed with the idea of taking the PO on, however after much discussion they decided against it, but as a support to the Village they have allocated a space(free of charge) where the ‘outreach’ service now operates from 3 times a week
The competition was very tough for the judging panel as each shop has its own unique style and personality and each of them excel in their own way, whether it be the additional services they give their customers such as dropping them home with heavy shopping bags or even popping in to change the odd light bulb for an elderly resident or the amazing array of local foods available 7 days a week, or the take away pizza service the shop offers so that residents in these rural locations have a take away opportunity at least one night a week!
The judges were absolutely blown away by the ‘back story’ that each shop had to tell that one of them suggested it would make a fantastic book.
In runner up position came Appledore stores and PO and again Sue is relatively new to retailing with just over 5 years under her belt. Sue is very involved with the community and her residents know that if they desperately need something they can know on her door out of hours and she will serve them. Sue also holds a bit of a Christmas party in the shop for the locals just before Christmas and one of her unique features are the hand written ‘tasting’ notes on her bottles of wine which are provided for her by a ‘Wine Master’ who lives in the village.
The other Finalists were
Speldhurst Village stores and PO, again fairly new to retailing, under 5 years, Anu was formerly a local midwife who can lay claim to having delivered 90% of the children in the village. despite the shop being compact the judges were astounded by the range of produce and were particularly taken by Anu’s care for the local residents and upbeat passion for serving the community, so much so that on one occasion when the post office service was unavailable due to a BT fault she funded cash withdrawals for her customers from her shop takings rather than let her customers down.
Anu is currently trying to organise a fish and chip or takeaway pizza van to come in to the village one evening a week to give locals the opportunity to have a take away service.
Chilham Stores and PO, Peter who runs the shop is at the other end of the spectrum as he has been running the stores for over 30 years. This shop again has an amazing amount of local food and a wonderful selection fresh fruit and veg which makes it look very colourful and incredibly tempting, Peter even sells some of his own hens eggs complete with the name of the hen and the date on which she laid it, you can’t get fresher of more local than that!
Peter is so committed to the residents of Chilham that he decided to take on the Post office when it was at threat of closure a few years ago. Gradually over time Peter has managed to squeeze an amazing range of products in there so the locals don’t have to come down to his main store.
Peter also received lovely comments from his customers – excellent shop, a real asset to the community. Peter always maintains his stock levels no matter what the weather and the delivery service is a lifeline to many who cannot get out or carry heavy bags, Peter is truly an unsung hero
Ken and Judith Linklater in Rolvenden are another of our finalist and very experienced retailers with 40 years serving the community and the thing that gets them up every day and keeps them going is the ‘customers’. This shop has some lovely little touches such as home cooked ham and freshly made sandwiches to order and again a wonderful selection of beautifully displayed fresh fruit and veg including some very exotic looking ‘Romanesco’ a member of the cauliflower/broccoli family!
Being at the centre of the community has seen Ken and Judith raise money through the support your ‘local’ community scheme for many local community groups.
TN17 Food and Wine at Sissinghurst, Pritpal took over about 16 months ago and has totally transformed the shop which had been in decline for the last five years so much so that at one stage the community were in fear of the shop closing down. Pritpal has two other shops and has been in retailing just over twelve years. Pritpal has done a lovely job of refurbishing the shop retaining the character of the building but adding a contemporary twist which complements the village beautifully, a wonderful range of local foods and a stunning wine selection. The shop has also retained the post office which has please the local residents enormously.
The compatition could not have taken place without the generous support of local Kent companies who sponsored the prizes so a huge thank you to Web Dandy who donated a £1500 website , Post Office Ltd who donated an i pad, Resoulute Shop Fitters who donated a £500 Google tour of the shop interior and lastly Rural Shops alliance who gave the winner a year’s platinum membership worth £250.
The Competition has raised awareness of the wonderful people running these amazing village stores and the enormous value a village shop can bring to a village, it is my hope that the success of this year’s competition will inspire even more shop keepers to get involved next year and the competition will go from strength to strength.