Sarah Dike and her family had to start from scratch when their c-store was wiped out by a blaze.

Retailing is deeply rooted in the psyche of Sarah Dike, of Budgens in Stoke sub Hamdon, Somerset. Her family has run one business or other from the same village site since the Second World War, and dabbled in several other ventures to boot.

C-store retailing didn’t come into the equation until 1993 but this business came to an abrupt halt in 2002 when a fire in a neighbouring house also wiped out the family’s store.

Says Sarah: “The fire was devastating, for us and our customers. Even so, within 10 days the family set up shop in a 600sq ft Portakabin. “This was our base for the next 21 months. It was miserable. However, our staff and customers stuck with us - they were very loyal.”

A major rebuild ensued, in partnership with Budgens (the store had previously been Londis branded). Sarah says: “There was nothing wrong with the Londis package but we felt we needed more of a partnership approach and Budgens’ franchise scheme fitted the bill; the quality of personnel was also very high.

“Budgens went into overdrive to help us after the fire to take the worry out of it. I don’t believe any other symbol would have gone that extra mile. It genuinely cared.”

The fact that Budgens and Sarah “sing from the same hymn sheet” is also a bonus, she says.

The biggest obstacle was, and remains, the fact that Budgens isn’t a well-known brand in the area, so the family has had to pull out all the stops to educate customers. “We had to do a lot of advertising. We did a brochure drop to locals when we first opened and we have advertised on local radio. We also shouted about the My Shop is Your Shop campaign, when we talked a lot to customers about us being independent despite bearing the Budgens name. We sponsor local community sports days and sometimes hold ‘corporate’ days at Yeovil Town Football Club matches. It’s all been beneficial.”

Sarah says 95% of sales are from passing trade. The store is just off the A3088 en route to Yeovil so drivers have to deviate slightly to visit. “The nearest supermarket is four miles away, and there is a Mace store in Stoke sub Hamdon but it’s largely news-based. So for a lot of local travellers we are the more convenient option, but they need to know we’re here and that’s where radio ads and leaflet drops come into their own. Already we are pulling in customers from a wider area than before, even from the outskirts of Yeovil four miles away.”

Sarah believes the store will reach its full potential within three years. “It’s a slow-burner. We could have moved to a more established high street location but we have the loyalty aspect on our side. We are keeping people happy and our prices are very competitive.”

The family worked with Budgens on a blueprint for the new store, which was going to be bigger and better than its predecessor. “Realistically, the only way to make the rebuild cost effective was to build a bigger store with a larger product range to generate more turnover.”

The 3,000sq ft Budgens has an aisle dedicated to fresh and chilled produce (the joint second most important categories, in Sarah’s view, after beers, wine and spirits), with a wider than normal selection of fruit varieties and fresh meat and fish.

Says Sarah: “We’ve had a much larger chilled section installed than needed right now because we believe it will be a core area by the time the store realises its full potential in three years. As a result, we’ve had a problem with wastage but Budgens has offered special deals on products to encourage customers to try them.”
Fresh products are delivered six days a week.

Sarah’s ‘all or nothing’ approach applies throughout the store. There is a large range of frozen products and four metres of greetings cards. “We’re trying to position ourselves as an alternative to supermarkets so we need to stock a comprehensive range of both major brands and own label. Frozen food isn’t flavour of the month but we still need the selection - you either do it or you don’t,” she says.

Then there are the added extras. Flowers are an important fixture since both Sarah and Kim have expertise in this area, having previously run a nursery. Bouquets and wreaths can be made to order and fresh flowers are always on display, complemented by a range of plants and gardening accessories. Bouquets range from £12-£15, about £5 cheaper than at a florists, and delivery is free.

“Joining Interflora is an option we’re investigating for the future,” says Sarah.

Every possible sales and product placement techique is tried and tested: popcorn is nestled beside the DVD and video section; kids toys and wrapping paper are adjacent to the racks of greetings cards; large bulk bags of dog food and pet toys are available; and there is a wide selection on beers, wines and spirits - a large proportion of which are chilled. For customers organising large parties or events there is a returns policy so any unused outers of beer, for example, can be refunded, and the store also supplies free glasses.

Special offer beer is stacked high, mirroring the multiples’ strategy. There’s a photocopier, cash machine, coffee machine, PayPoint, lottery, dry cleaning, flowers and plants. “All that’s missing is vitamins, minerals, supplements and make-up. Hot food to go is also on the cards.”

Sarah says the family is looking for another store. “We now have the structure and depth of management to take on a new store. Hopefully, it will be local but we’re ready to look further afield.”

A home delivery service was launched in the store last year. An initial leaflet drop alerted locals to the service.

Orders are placed either by phone, email or through a shop and drop system. Delivery is free for customers living within a five-mile radius placing orders of £25 and over. The store has a Budgens branded chilled van that delivers daily, on request. Around 30 orders are placed a week.

Sarah says: “The service is not cost-effective yet but we need to go that extra mile to build a strong foundation. We deliver any time and use staff on duty to make the deliveries.”

Location: Stoke sub Hamdon, Somerset

Store size: 3,000sq ft

Weekly turnover: £27,000, expected to rise to £45-50,000

Bestsellers: beers, wines and spirits; chilled and fresh
Staff: 14 - four full-time

Opening hours: 7.30am-9pm Mon-Sat; 8.30am-9pm Sunday.

Average basket: £4.80

Parking: 11 spaces

Customer profile: Local residents; school children; passing trade

Busiest time: 5pm-7pm