Geeta and Chani Doal’s store looks immaculate, but this was not what won them the LifeStyle Express Store of the Year title in Blakemore Wholesale’s competition for its 310-strong retail club.

Store standards were crucially important in the competition, but the judges said they saw some equally well presented stores. It was the exceptional way in which Geeta and Chani have engaged with their local community that made them stand out.

The couple only became retailers in October 2006 when they moved to Wheaton Aston in Staffordshire, and took over the village store. Chani says Adrian Nicholls, the business development manager at their local Blakemore Wholesale cash & carry in Wolverhampton, provided a great deal of help and advice as they developed the business.

The 800sq ft store has an awkward floor plan and one of their first acts was to invest in a new layout. Chani says it is almost like two stores in one, with a CTN at the front and a surprisingly wide range of groceries at the back. The couple also opted for Blakemore’s LifeStyle Express package and agreed a core range for the store. Nicholls says the store is immaculately merchandised and Chani visits the cash & carry most days to ensure the shelves are always well stocked, and he is always willing to try new products.

In addition to store standards, the couple have worked hard on the service side of their business and getting involved in their local community, and this was what singled them out to the judges in Blakemore’s competition.

All the stores shortlisted for the award were visited by Blakemore executives and representatives of the sponsors, Mars, Britvic and Heineken. Mars national account manager Jo Lammas says the store provides an exceptional service to the elderly people in the village. Chani will drive customers to and from the store, or they can ring in an order, and the couple also provide an ordering and delivery service to the local nursing home.

Despite being relative newcomers to the village, Chani and Geeta know all their regular customers’ names and often what they have come into the store to buy, which helps when deciding what to stock. For instance, Geeta says confectionery is not only important because the school bus stops outside the store, but also because many of the elderly customers have a sweet tooth.

The couple have also given full support to the My Shop is Your Shop campaign, marking National Independents’ Week and organising a fundraising event for National Walk and Shop Day, which raised more than £3,000. Geeta also did a sponsored parachute jump to raise money for Breast Cancer Research and is training to be a Police Community Support Officer, although it will be the streets of Wolverhampton, rather than Wheaton Aston, that she will be patrolling after she qualifies in April.

Blakemore and the sponsors of the award had said they really wanted to highlight and properly reward best practice and that is why they set the first prize at £10,000, with another £1,000 for a charity of the winner’s choice.

Chani says they are looking to invest their winnings in extending the store. He would like to introduce bake-off, extend their offering of fruit and vegetables and increase the amount of chilled space.