“The most important people who come through the door are your customers – no customers, no business,” Dennis adds. But you can’t pick up social skills from a book, he says. “There are some customers you can have a laugh and a joke with, and others who you have to be a bit more careful with. You can’t learn this from a manual; you pick it up as you go along. “People always think that we have an easy job because we’re just taking money over the till, but that’s a small part of the bigger picture.” The couple’s dedication to their customers goes beyond the day-to-day running of the store, and Linda and Dennis take an active role in the community, particularly through the My Shop is Your Shop (MSYS) campaign, which encourages c-stores to celebrate their place in society. “We’ve been heavily involved in MSYS – we won the FWD gold medal for our efforts last year,” says Dennis. Not surprisingly, the couple have entered the competition again this year. During National Independents’ Week, Dennis invited contacts at Scottish & Newcastle to run a tasting session with Scrumpy Jack cider, and organised a performance of the local school’s jazz band. “An event like this takes months to set up,” says Linda. “But it’s rewarding and the staff enjoy it,” Dennis chips in. “Next year I’ll get one of our suppliers to sponsor the event and pay for it. They get fantastic PR so everyone’s a winner.” When he hasn’t got his c-store hat on, Dennis has his hands full with all sorts of fundraising events. “I’m chairman of the local community centre, which is close to my heart. Through it I’ve built up a relationship with people in the area,” he says. “I do a kids’ disco on Friday night; I’ve done a pantomime, a fireworks night and a magic show – I’m a real organiser.”
On the campaign trail
The Williams’ community work means the couple have had plenty of media interest. And they’re keen to use this to draw attention to the causes they fight for. “My wife and I voice our opinions very strongly because we’re enthusiastic and really care about our business,” says Dennis. The couple have not taken kindly to the latest proposals to ban the display of tobacco. “It’s scandalous,” says Dennis. “Putting cigarettes under the counter makes it seem like a black market practice. I could see the point if it was going to cut the sales of cigarettes, but we’ve seen from other countries that this hasn’t happened.” Linda adds: “People know what cigarettes they want, but they don’t necessarily know the price, so it’s going to be a long process explaining how much each pack costs.” She is equally unconvinced that it will help people to quit smoking and is concerned that independents will be hit hard by the added expense of having to re-home cigarettes under the counter. “The cost will be disproportionate for a lot of small shops and it’ll be the last straw for them,” she says. The couple are not ready to back down yet, having lobbied Scottish Parliament member David McLetchie on the issue and written to chancellor Alistair Darling. “We just have to make as much noise as possible and hope that somebody somewhere takes notice,” says Linda. “It’s a community store and it should be treasured.” Another area in which Linda and Dennis are particularly keen to get their point across is regarding changes in alcohol licensing north of the border. “It costs £250 per person for a licence to sell alcohol,” says Linda. “The government is still debating the rules, but some chief constables are saying that there needs to be a licence-holder on the premises at all times. If that’s the case, then we’ll need four licences, so that’s £1,000 straight up.” An architect’s drawing showing where the appropriate exits are and the areas where alcohol is to be sold will cost between £200 and £300. “Plus our solicitor wants £1,500 to fill in the application form, but I think we’ll have a bash at that ourselves,” she says. When faced with so many challenges, and with a busy shop to run, it would be easy to step back and leave the campaigning to pressure groups. But Linda and Dennis refuse to be beaten. “Red tape is ripping the heart out of communities, but I’ll fight my corner,” Dennis says. “I always try to do my best.” What more can you ask?
Store: Broadway Convenience Store (Premier), 10 Oxgangs Broadway, Edinburgh Store size: 2,000sq ft Employees: one full-time, nine part-time Services: PayPoint, home delivery service Achievements: MSYS retailer of the year 2007 (FWD gold medal winner).