Pippa and David Heritage have won over their village community thanks to their go-getting attitude and charitable thinking

There’s a jingling of coins coming from the back office as Convenience Store enters Barns Green Village Store. “We’ve just been counting up the cash from our latest fundraiser,” explains co-owner Pippa Heritage, as she comes out to greet us. “Last year we heard that one of our customers was crossing a road when they had a heart attack and died. We thought if something like that happened in or near our store we want to be able to do something about it, so we decided to raise £2,000 to buy a defibrillator.”

Pippa and husband David set about organising their ‘Defib do’ in January, arranging free entertainment courtesy of a customer’s band and sorting out various activities. “We held a raffle and an auction of promises where people offered different services, such as gardening and window cleaning, as well as the opportunity to rent out a holiday villa,” says Pippa. “People have been so generous we raised £1,700 from the auction alone, and we’ve ended up raising £5,000.”

And this isn’t the first time the couple have called on their customers for support they have involved villagers from day one. “We opened the store in June 2008. It had been in the village since the 1900s, so it was well established, but really run down, tatty, dark and dirty,” explains David.

The pair did their best to improve it, investing in new product lines and shelving, but their cash wouldn’t stretch to the flooring which was in desperate need of attention. So without a second thought, Pippa put pen to paper and wrote a poem An Ode to Barns Green Village Store. The poem described how the couple were desperate to get the store on track, and encouraged customers to help by buying a floor tile for a pound. To bring it to life, Pippa put up a cork board with a floorplan pinned to it, so that people could choose which tile they wanted to purchase. As a further incentive, everyone who bought a tile got their name entered into a raffle to win a hamper. The initiative raised nearly £1,000, which gave the pair the extra money they needed to tile the floor.

And the couple continue to make the most of customers’ goodwill. “When we had a new chiller delivered, it was just left on the pavement outside the shop, so I asked a few locals to help me move it,” says David. “I’m a cheeky so-and-so sometimes, but it seems to do the trick!”

David claims that the couple’s close bond with the villagers is what keeps the store alive. “We make time for customers and go the extra mile for them. For example, we have an old lady in her 90s who rings us to ask for a milk delivery we don’t even think about it, we just do it,” he says matter-of-factly.

The notion that actions speak louder than words is central to the couple’s ethos. “We’re very pro-active,” says Pippa. “Things tend to get done before we’ve written them down!”

They quickly took matters into their own hands where the in-store post office is concerned. While the previous owner had rented a counter to the Post Office, which ran the service 11 hours a week, Pippa and David decided to take it on themselves, meeting customer demand for longer opening hours. “We have no salary, but we get the commission, and the main thing is that it provides a service for the village as we’re now open five-and-a-half days a week,” says Pippa, adding that the move was much appreciated by the villagers.

The couple also decided to manage their own fruit & veg supply, adding theatre to their store with the addition of a market stall display outside. “I buy produce twice a week direct from the market, so it’s as fresh as possible,” says David, “and by cutting out the middleman we are able to price match the supermarkets.”

A deli counter is another new concept that the couple have tried their hands at. “We liked stuffed peppers, so we thought we’d have a go at a deli counter,” says Pippa. As well as peppers, cheese and olives, the deli sells freshly made produce. “I make sandwiches, cakes and quiches and sell them whole or by the slice,” says Pippa. “Off the back of the sandwiches, we’ve also started to do stonebaked pizzas as it keeps the waste down and means the deli area is busy of an evening.”

The sandwiches have been such a success that they have also branched out into catering, offering sandwich deliveries and buffets for conferences and family celebrations.

Another avenue the duo have explored is selling wool. When the long-standing wool shop in nearby Horsham town centre closed people wrote to the local newspaper to complain. Ever alert to new opportunities, Pippa emailed the newspaper as soon as she read the story, responding with a letter which flagged up her store’s wool offering. “Once my response was published, people were travelling five miles from Horsham to buy their wool here and, of course, they’d pick up other bits and pieces, too. We’ve doubled our wool sales, and there’s a 40% mark-up on wool, so it’s pretty good.”

A freezer full of Cook-branded meals has also been installed, inspired by a store in Horsham. “We sell at the same price as in town and they’ve been well received.”

Shop profile

Barns Green Village Store, Horsham, West Sussex 

Staff: two full-time, eight part-time 
Size: 1,000sq ft 
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 7am-8pm, Sat 8am-8pm, Sun 8am-4 or 6pm (seasonal) 
Additional services: news delivery, lottery, Payzone, fresh bread, deli counter

At a glance, the couple’s whirlwind approach may seem a little gung-ho, but David is satisfied that his actions are backed up by impressive figures. When the couple took the store on, it was turning over £2,000 a week, and have since built it to a respectable £15,000. “Customer footfall has doubled, but much of our success has been from existing customers coming in more often,” says David. “Basket spend has gone up and up. It was about £2 when we first took over, and it’s now over £5 and growing.”

And the pair continue to try out new ideas. “We write a little ditty in the local paper every month,” says David. “We’ll talk about new staff members or new card ranges it’s nice to personalise our message and people look forward to reading it.”

The shop’s Facebook site, boasting 136 friends, is regularly updated with a lively assortment of photos and comments, as is its website, which has succeeded in drawing custom from an unlikely source. “A lady in Yorkshire Googled for shops in our area and found our website,” says Pippa. “She explained that her son, who lived in our area, had come out of hospital and asked if we would mind delivering him some food. We helped her out, trusting that she would pay us later which she did and she now orders hampers from us on a regular basis.”

Adds David: “The reason we’re successful is because we’re forward thinking. There aren’t enough sales from beans and fags to keep a store going. You need to engage with your customers and find new areas for your store to prosper in. If you are seen as pro-active then opportunities come to you it’s simply a question of being brave and giving it a go.”