The picturesque village of Goudhurst in Kent had never experienced anything quite like it, as crowds of more than 10,000 waited in anticipation for the arrival of the colourful circus which is the Tour de France cycle race.
Blink and you could have missed the riders themselves as they made short work of the 'King of the Mountains' climb and Kent's answer to the French Alps. But businesses were quick to realise the potential of such an influx into the village.
Crowds started gathering more than three hours in advance of the first competitors' arrival, eager to stake their claim to their very own square foot of pavement.
In preparation for such a major event, an organising committee was formed 12 months ago in Goudhurst. Retailer John Maxwell-Jones, who owns Burgess Stores, represented traders on the committee.
"We saw the event as a real opportunity as we knew it would attract thousands of extra people into the village with it being one of the King of the Mountains sections," he explains. "We also realised the village as a whole had to be organised so the Parish Council called a meeting and formed a co-ordinating committee.
"The main issues we identified were that we would need to lay on extra parking and toilets! We also realised that it would help if there were other events going on in the village to keep the youngsters entertained throughout the day."
While the tour sped through the outskirts of Goudhurst when it last travelled across the Channel in 1994, this year was the first time it had passed directly through the village.
"It's been fantastic for Kent," says John. "It really put the county on the map with it being the first stage. And it's estimated to have brought in £35m to the county - 40% of which has gone to the retail sector.
"People came from all over. I met a French family who visited London the day before and had chosen Goudhurst in particular as a good place to watch the tour. I also spoke to a Dutch family who had timed their holiday to coincide with the event."
John and his wife Elaine elected to set up business outside their store with a restricted range of popular products on sale. John explains: "We decided to bring the store outside for the day. We have an extremely extensive range inside and felt it would be difficult to manage it on such a busy day. Instead, we set up a display of products including soft drinks, crisps, sandwiches, rolls and chocolate bars, which we knew would all be big sellers."
John says while this had the potential to restrict sales, he believes it was the right decision. "The extra custom made up the difference," he says. "We certainly sold a lot more with just the restricted range than we usually do with the whole shop open on a Sunday."
A Thai food takeaway, belonging to John's son-in-law's mother, set up next to his store and proved popular. "The Thai stand was very successful," says John. "While it's not my business it is family and it attracted a lot of people to the store. Diageo was also more than happy to help us out and dressed one of our windows with a Pimm's display and provided us with a branded gazebo to sell from. In our other window we set up a display of cycling memorabilia including photos of cyclist Clive Parker, who won a number of Tour of Britain races in the 1950s. They were loaned to us by his son, who is one of our suppliers."
John took advantage of a scaled- down practice run before the arrival of the pros, when 5,000 amateur cyclists took to the route a week ahead of the main event. "We had a really busy day the previous week as all the cyclists stopped off to refuel in the store," he says. "We made sure we ordered extra stock including products such as bottled water, fruit bars and snack products. A few of the cyclists have even come back since so that's also brought us some extra custom that we wouldn't have usually received."
And it wasn't just John whose profits were boosted by the tour's visit to Goudhurst. The butcher's, baker's and newsagents all mucked in to create a memorable day and at the same time cash in on the occasion.
John explains: "From speaking to other businesses in the area, it seems that everyone did extremely well out of the day. A lot of people who spoke to me said they were really pleased that they weren't being ripped off. Customers were very happy we kept the prices the same and didn't try to scrape extra money out of visitors to the village."
John also praised the work of the police. "It was good to see a strong police presence. The neighbourhood watch group worked with police to install temporary CCTV for the day. It's important to be on your guard when such a big event takes place. We were very pleased with the day and it was great that a lot of people stayed on in the village into the late afternoon, long after the riders had passed through."
Road to riches
Elsewhere along the route, which took in Kentish towns including Dartford, Gravesend, Maidstone, Tunbridge Wells and Ashford, fellow retailers were delighted to receive the extra trade.
Josh Patel, owner of the Sweet Shop c-store in Tonbridge, Kent, says: "Sales were up 300% and it was a massive boost for business. We should have put our prices up! Everyone had a really good time and it was a huge success. We were giving away free T-shirts in connection with the local paper. Customers could buy a paper on the Saturday and then pick up their T-shirts from us on the Sunday."
The route also passed Raj Sivanesan's Red Orange Fine Life Shopper on London's Tower Bridge Road. Raj's store, which also sits on the route of the London Marathon, benefited from additional custom, which boosted his typical Sunday takings. "The tour attracted a good crowd," he says. "Sales were way up on a typical Sunday and it was a great opportunity to take advantage of some extra footfall. It was also a good chance for other people who might not have come to the area to discover the store."
John says he hopes the tour will return to Goudhurst and adds: "Everyone had a great day and it was good for business. Of course, I also enjoyed watching the race myself. We've been told the shop was on the TV coverage for about 15 seconds and I could be clearly seen cheering the cyclists on in my bright yellow
T-shirt and cap."
Blow your own trumpet
You shouldn't be afraid to make the first move when it comes to gaining publicity, says Goudhurst retailer John Maxwell-Jones.
"Publicity is extremely important but not always easy to get as there are always other events to compete against," he says. "I usually make the first contact and it helps to have an interesting angle - something a bit off-the-wall. We also often raise money for local schools and charities."
The next event John plans to participate in is the Cranbrook and Tenterden Food and Drink Fair. He's also holding his own 'masterchef' competition and about two-thirds of schools in the area are taking part. He's just been heavily involved in National Independents' Week and will join in with British Food Fortnight later this year.
"We're always looking ahead for events we can play a part in," he says. "It's also important to remember, though, that while it's good to get involved in raising money and gaining publicity at events, you can't forget the main part of your job, which is the everyday running of the store."
John was delighted with the coverage his business and the village of Goudhurst as a whole received by playing host to the Tour de France.
He adds: "We were mentioned in The Times along with the butcher's. BBC Radio Kent set up base in Goudhurst and also ran three spots in the build-up to the day. Presenter Julie Maddocks called in early to say hello and I was more than pleased with all the coverage we received.
"The anticipation of the event was certainly backed up by all the excitement and extra trade we got on the day."