If you ask anyone who is an authority on the convenience sector, they will generally say that community activity and support is a vital part of running a neighbourhood store. I very much respect and endorse the idea of the local shop being the hub of the community, and so we do a lot of activity and I encourage the staff to get involved whenever they can.
There are lots of things that we do: we sponsor the breakfast club at the local school, which means that once a month we carry a bag full of fruit, juices and croissants over to the school for when the staff and pupils have a morning meeting of their ‘council’. We also sponsor the school newsletter, which means our name is visible in every edition, and we have also recently purchased a defibrillator for the school buildings.
There is also a school carnival, fireworks display and a parish council Christmas carnival that we support, and we also sponsor a roundabout in the village that gives us an advertising platform, but also helps to pay for its upkeep. Recently the post office has been moved into the store, too, and that is very much seen as a community asset.
But for retailers the key question is: what is the return on my investment? Overall, we spend about £6,000 a year on our community work, mainly on the sponsorships and advertising, but there are lots of little things that all add up. It is very difficult to measure whether it is worth it in financial terms, although it is important to be seen as putting something back, so this year we are going to look closely at our budget, not necessarily in terms of how much we spend, but in terms of whether we are focused and targeted enough with it in order to gain the best impact.
I think the best answer was provided by Budgens retailer Andrew Thornton. I saw him give a presentation once in which he said that if he didn’t do all his local community activity, he would have been wiped out by the competition surrounding him. A large Co-op store opened near us a few years ago, but we have always been able to maintain sales because I think we have been able to retain the loyalty and emotional relationship with our customers, who know the store and me and my family through our community support.