Ask anyone what makes a store appealing to its customers and the first thing they'll mention is the importance of a warm and welcoming environment.

But although village shop owners Iris and Tim Penney tried their best every winter to make customers feel at ease, it was tricky when the store was so chilly that staff were forced to don scarf and gloves.

"Customers complained that it was colder in the shop than it was outside," says Iris. "It got so bad that my husband gave me a wooden pallet with a piece of polystyrene underneath to stand on while I was serving, in order to stop the cold coming up through the floor."

And things didn't get much better come summer, where heat caused more problems. "We ended up having to cut down on our chocolate products because they were all melting," says Iris. "It was just awful."

So exactly why was the store's temperature so extreme? The problem stemmed from the fact that the previous owner had converted the unit from a garage and hadn't taken into account the need for insulation.

The duo endured the situation for six years, but things came to a head in 2008 when a bout of heavy rain struck. "It seeped through the doors and there were three inches of water covering the floor. Luckily, it didn't come up to the plug sockets or products, but it made us realise that things needed to change."

A major overhaul

The couple decided to go for a complete revamp and set about getting planning permission. However, because the store is based in the picturesque village of Acton Turville in South Gloucestershire, the council was particularly strict.

"Gaining planning permission was the single most challenging aspect of the renovation," says Tim.

The council insisted on using cut, solid stone for the exterior and keeping the bay window frontage, with paintwork that wasn't white or brown. They even took exception to the proposed shape of the roof.

Despite many setbacks, Tim took things in his stride. "We had to accept that was how it was. And besides, we didn't want an ugly building that no one wanted to go in."

Once planning permission was eventually granted, there was another hurdle: the job was so big that the Penneys couldn't contemplate keeping the store open while work was going on, but they couldn't afford to close and risk losing business. Instead, they set about looking for a property in which to relocate temporarily.

"We thought of a couple of places we might operate from, but they were too far from the shop and we didn't want people to get out of the habit of driving to this end of the village," says Iris. In the end, the couple got the go-ahead to set up shop in a temporary building in the nearby pub car park.

Nick-named the bean can because it measured just 24ft by nine, the metal cabin was far from ideal. "There was no stockroom in our little bean can, so I had to give over one of our living rooms," says Iris. The couple live half a mile away from the pub, so it wasn't a case of just nipping over the road to grab a half-a-dozen bottles of Coke if they ran out. "If we ran out of a product at 11am, it was gone for the rest of the day. We had to rely on the patience of our customers, but they were really good because they knew we were working on making the shop better in the long run."

Another downside was that staff had no protection from the elements. When it rained, Iris had no choice but to sit in her car and wait for it to pass.

But ever the optimists, Iris and Tim found that the shop's new location had its plus points. "We lost out on passing trade, but we picked up customers from the pub," says Iris. "And there was plenty of parking, which the locals loved."

However, even with their upbeat attitude, the Penneys found the project exhausting. "There was the odd occasion when I felt 'I don't want to think about the renovation any more'," says Iris.

Before the refit, Tim had worked full-time as an electrical fitter, as well as doing runs to the cash and carry and managing the store's paperwork. During the refit he had to oversee the building work, too. Iris' days were equally hectic; she worked mornings as a teaching assistant, afternoons at the bean can, and evenings sorting out the store. And that's not to mention involvement in village events such as sponsoring a pig race to raise money for the local church and taking part in an open gardens day.

Their loyalty to the community paid off, though, when Iris called for help to clean up the shop and family and friends came up trumps.

The couple's luck was also in as they managed to nab the shelving from a nearby Woolworths which was closing down, at a knock-down price. "It was a bargain," beams Iris.

Results at last

Six months of toil later and work on the store was complete. By arranging the shelving lengthways down the store, customers were encouraged to walk around, rather than just grab what they need and run. The couple were also able to incorporate the post office till into the main counter, saving staff from having to run between the areas.

With the extra room, tables, chairs and a coffee machine were added to the mix so that the potential for a full food-to-go area could be measured. "To start with, it was slow and we were selling a coffee from the machine every two or three days. But it's really picked up and now we sell about 15 a day," she smiles. "People sit down with a sandwich from the fridge and a hot drink and we've managed to get back to our pre-move trade so it's worked very well."

Iris and Tim have also used the extra space to expand their product ranges. "We've started providing far more local goods," says Iris. Bread comes from Marshfield bakery, Tracklements provides chutneys and preserves, and a local farmer supplies sausages.

To celebrate the reopening of the store, the couple organised a wine tasting evening where customers were given the opportunity to sample all the new products. "Everyone was talking to people they hadn't spoken to in years it was great," grins Iris. "I think we're going to do it every year as it was such a success, it's really lifted the sales of the new items."

And there are still plenty more opportunities to grow. The couple are now working on gaining accreditation to prepare food on site. Customers are already chomping at the bit, says Tim. "Everybody keeps asking when the bacon sandwiches are going to be ready!"

While some retailers in Iris and Tim's position would have looked to mark the redesign of the store by re-branding as a symbol group, the Penneys were having none of it. "We're members of Booker, but we didn't want to be a Premier store," says Iris. "The reason we went into convenience is because we wanted to build something for the village not for another company. It's the customers' business not ours so we always want to be able to accommodate their needs and being independent keeps our options open."

And, of course, redesigning a store independently brings with it a certain sense of personal pride. Says Tim: "When I walk into this shop I feel really chuffed, just to think we did this! The customers love it and so do we."

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