Roger and Debbie Rawlings bought Skellow News in Doncaster three years ago and, up until last year, business was ticking over nicely. The couple were going to expand their tiny store by knocking through the back wall, but their plans had to be put on ice when a major competitor opened up nearby.

"The expansion would have gone ahead if a One-Stop store hadn't arrived just a few doors away from us," says Roger. "We've been losing £2,000 a week since it opened, so as a result we've lost £100,000 in the past year."

Even though Roger says that his rival's products are more expensive, he claims people still go there because the store is bigger and newer. "We buy a lot of pricemarked stock so that people know they're not getting ripped off, but they are still going up the road to do their shopping," he sighs. "The One-Stop has PayPoint, so customers can pay their gas and electric bills there. We applied for the same service before it even opened, but we were declined."

The couple have plenty of extra offerings to draw in customers. "We've done quite well selling hats and gloves over the winter. We're always trying new things," says Roger. "We offer alcohol, mobile phone top-ups, pick and mix sweets, and Slush Puppies in the summer."

They are not against joining a symbol group in order to gain more support, but are concerned that it wouldn't be tailored enough to meet their needs. "We joined Batleys cash and carry for a period last year. The firm provided us with free promotional gear, but it changed its offers every month," says Roger. "We weren't selling out of the stock that we'd bought in for the promotions, so ended up losing money."

in the experts' opinion:

Malcolm Crump

Spar Compton,


“This is a terrible situation to be in. This couple need to take action and fast, as they can’t possibly continue losing £2,000 a week in the current economic climate.

“The first step that I would recommend they take is to join a symbol group. That would give them the support and backing that they need to survive.

“The next thing that they need to do is play to their strengths, and customer service is a great place to start. As local people, Roger and Debbie know many of their customers and their needs. This means that they have the ability to provide outstanding customer service. They should talk to their customers and find out what they want from their local store.

“Have they thought about expanding their fresh produce range? This would probably be of more use than scarves and hats.

“As a small store they can also be more responsive than the One-Stop, which would need permission from head office before making any changes to layout or range. I wouldn’t advise them to try to compete too much on price though.”

David Smith

Smiths Corner Stores, Grimoldby, Lincolnshire

“The first thing that I would do is review the competition. I would write down all of my competitors’ strengths and weaknesses and then assess these against my own. This simple process would give me an instant idea of the things that I could improve and the things that I was already doing well and could promote.

“It’s also really important that this couple learn to look at their business from a customer’s point of view. It can be incredibly hard to detach yourself when you spend hour upon hour in the store, but it’s vital that they try. If they struggle to do this, a good idea is to ask a friend or a customer who they know well for their honest view.

“My second suggestion is that they consider joining a symbol group for the extra support they offer, such as marketing help and point of sale material.

“I really hope for their sake that this decline isn’t terminal, and that they come out of it at the other side. You often find that hard times can spur people on, and their businesses eventually emerge in a better shape. Let’s hope that this is the case here.”