Our four Champions discuss how they maintain and care for their local areas

Rav Garcha, owner of three Nisa stores and one unaffiliated shop in the West Midlands

Rav stopped litter building up outside his Birmingham store by rewarding local kids with a slushie drink if they helped pick up a set amount of rubbish.

Dennis Williams, Broadway Premier, Edinburgh, Scotland

Community engagement is central to Dennis and wife Linda’s work ethic, and the couple have seen anti-social behaviour problems decrease dramatically as a result of their activities.

Clive Sheppard, director at the Chartman Group, which owns Spar Magdalen Road, Exeter, as well as eight forecourts

Having organised a successful community litter pick with Wrigley and Keep Britain Tidy last year, Clive is keen to continue to build local links over the coming year.

Phil Barton, chief executive of Keep Britain Tidy

Barton is urging retailers to care about the communities they serve and spread Keep Britain Tidy’s Love Where You Live message. Confectionery and chewing gum specialist Wrigley is a founding partner of the campaign.

Why is it important to keep your store and surrounding area tidy?

Rav: You have to make the store inviting. If your front yard is untidy, then people will think the same of the inside of the store.

Clive: Your surroundings reflect the business. If it’s shabby outside then, subconsciously, people will think it’s the same inside. I also think it’s your responsibility as a retailer to help the community.

Dennis: It affects customers’ perceptions of what your store is like - if it’s clean on the outside then people are more likely to come in.

Phil: Litter is a sign of a community in decline. Keeping your store and surrounding area clean and tidy not only makes for a pleasant shopping experience, it also shows pride and love for your community. By taking care of your shop and its surroundings, retailers are showing they respect their customers and local residents.

How do you ensure that your store and surrounding areas are kept clean?

Rav: We don’t have a litter rota, but staff know to pick up any rubbish if they notice it. In our Broadway store we had a problem with kids dropping litter, so we told them that if they picked up a set amount of litter then we’d give them a free slushie.

Clive: The store managers are responsible for keeping an eye on things and ensuring that any litter is picked up. In larger stores we have a dedicated member of staff to control litter, and in other shops everyone helps out.

Dennis: We get a lot of leaves because we’re in a precinct and it’s like a wind tunnel, so we regularly sweep, clean and pick any litter up. We have bins outside the store, too.

Phil: Retailers can ensure their stores are kept tidy by making a specific member of staff responsible for keeping the store front clean. They can also introduce set times for staff to clean the shop floor, store entrance and surrounding area. Shop owners can also get pro-active by encouraging tidy-ups in their community.

How do you decide on the best way to help your local area?

Rav: We struggle to pick who we should help sometimes. We’d love to help everyone, but we can’t always. The main thing we’ve done is to make sure that we’re affiliated with the local schools and football teams.

Clive: It’s a case of looking at what opportunities are available. If you’ve helped a school in one project, then you might want to help another community group, such as the elderly, the next time - you need to balance who is represented.

Dennis: You have to use your own discretion and look at what is going to be the most beneficial for the local area. I’m a chairman at the Pentland Community Centre so that helps to give me an idea of what’s going on.

Phil: A shop owner is often a central figure in a community. This means retailers are in a prime position to talk to people about how they really feel about their area and what they would like to see improved. By talking and, more importantly, listening to people in the community a retailer will have insider knowledge on what people really want to see happen.

What are the expenditures involved in helping to improve your local area?

Rav: Sometimes we fund activities, but we get a lot of support from our suppliers. As long as we engage with our community and the suppliers get return on their investment then it’s a win-win.

Clive: Helping to improve the local area involves time and money. We had about 15 people involved in our community litter pick, but it was a good investment.

Dennis: A lot of what you put into it is your time, but I see community work as just part of the working week. We work as a team with other groups and suppliers, it’s not just us - it’s everyone working together.

Phil: Many projects that we work on with retailers simply cost time, rather than money. Retailers could allow a set amount of staff to spend an hour or so painting the local playground, or litter picking around the town. It is all about investing in your community. If retailers do that they will see the returns.

How has your involvement in community regeneration benefitted the local area?

Rav: The work we’ve done with local schools has helped to educate the kids. For example, we helped to fund a lady who gave pupils a talk on domestic abuse. And our work refurbishing the community hall means that local groups have a nicer meeting place. Doing things like this creates good morale in the community.

Clive: Getting involved in litter picks helps to make the area look better and makes everyone feel better in themselves.

Dennis: Organising events gives your area community spirit, and our recent breakfast event encouraged kids to eat more healthily.

Phil: By getting involved in community regeneration, retailers can help turn their towns and villages into happy, vibrant areas where morale is high. People want to live somewhere they can be proud of. Often one person or business taking those first steps to improve an area will inspire and encourage a whole community. Organising or supporting community regeneration projects shows people that you are more than just a store. When we worked with Wrigley and Clive on the litter pick at Spar Magdalen Road, it helped to create a more positive, community-spirited atmosphere. If people believe that you care, then they are more likely to shop with you.

How has your involvement in community regeneration helped your business?

Rav: In our Birmingham store we used to get death threats and people causing trouble. We were raided in the riots and staff had been held at gunpoint before. Since doing community engagement projects, this problem has been greatly reduced. Community work also helps with loyalty. One customer said that they go out of their way to come to us because of the work we do in the local area.

Clive: Engaging with the local area has raised awareness that our stores exist and shown we are part of the community.

Dennis: When you get involved in the community, you don’t have problems in store because customers respect you. They feel the shop belongs to them.

Phil: Residents will be proud of a retailer who makes an effort to not only be part of their community, but also improve it. By investing in projects outside your shop’s four walls, shop owners can demonstrate a commitment to their community. In turn, this will foster good feeling towards a retailer and a genuine desire for that business to survive and flourish.

What have you done to help improve your local area?

Rav: We engage with local schools and football clubs regularly by running competitions, or providing a reward for man of the match. We’ve joined the local neighbourhood watch group, helped organise a party in the park and refurbished the kitchen at a community hall.

Clive: We’ve worked on a community litter pick at our Magdalen Road Spar store, which involved the town mayor, local school children, Wrigley and Keep Britain Tidy. We’ve also bought athletics kits for the local schools.

Dennis: We’ve organised community days and worked with Coca-Cola and the council to get a recycling bin set up. We’ve just celebrated the store’s 30th anniversary with lots of events.

Phil: We have worked with retailers on litter picks and regeneration projects which involve the community.

What new community regeneration projects do you have planned?

Rav: We’re planning to help fund a lady to give talks to school kids about healthy eating.

Clive: We are planning another community litter pick this year at Spar Magdalen Road and looking to support a local street fair.

Dennis: We’re doing a teddy bear’s picnic with the local nursery school, and we’re also looking to run another healthy eating day.

Phil: In 2011, with the help of founding partner Wrigley, we launched one of our most successful projects to date, Love Where You Live. We hope convenience stores across the country will embrace it this year. We need shop owners to encourage customers not to drop their waste, but to put it in a bin.

How should retailers go about getting involved in projects to improve their local area?

Rav: Start small, but be loud and proud about it. When we started supporting the local football teams and donating raffle prizes, we printed a note with just three lines explaining what we were doing, and left it in store for customers to read. People were pleased to hear about what we were doing and they were happy for us to charge for carrier bags when they saw that we were investing in local causes. If you’re not putting anything back into the area then you’re no better than a supermarket.

Clive: Listen to your customers and any local parish magazines so that you can be aware of what’s going on in your local area and see where you can help.

Dennis: Start small and play to your strengths. Do something like a cuppa day, where you give customers tea, coffee and biscuits. Then you can build up to bigger events.

Phil: Retailers can contact Keep Britain Tidy to find out what activities are going on in their local area, or to start up new projects. We can advise on how to set up community regeneration initiatives and can supply clean-up kits including litter pickers and fluorescent safety bibs. We can also advise retailers on how to spread the Love Where You Live message and provide posters and materials to enable them to do so. For more information, visit keepbritaintidy.org.•

The C-Store Champions are a group of experienced retailers who understand the central role of the local store in their community. They are tuned into the demands and desires of their customers, and believe in continual development of their businesses. Each month we ask a few of the Champions to share their experience and expertise with other retailers.

Wanted: independent champions

Are you an experienced retailer and willing to share your knowledge? Call Sarah Britton on 01293 610220 if you’re Champion material.