If there was any doubt about history repeating itself, just take a look at the Holborn family. In 1974 Daniel and Doreen took over the leasehold of a small CTN in Redhill, Surrey, and set about turning around the fortunes of this tired and old-fashioned store. Their enthusiasm and high standards created
an early version of a modern c-store and a business with a turnover of more than £1m.
Some 30 years on and it's their son, Dean, who's following their example by transforming a business that's just five minutes' drive away from the family's first store.
South Nutfield Corner Stores, which had been in the same hands for 26 years, was in urgent need of TLC when the family purchased it in July 2005 and it's now Dean - who joined the business after leaving college in 1984 - who's using everything he's learnt from them to deliver a service the locals can rely on.
Within the first six months the village property benefited from a new roof, store room, a forecourt re-tarmac and new counter. There's since been a total refit and, to cap it off, the village post office has been incorporated.
Dean picks up the story: "The shop has always been well supported as it was all the village had and people didn't want to lose it. It was going downhill, though, and was in desperate need of investment. There was a lot that needed doing to bring it up to date. The inside looked very tired, as did the outside and the shop front."
Daniel and Doreen still play an active role in the Holborn business, but having two stores has changed things. Says Dean: "Having the two stores has helped us with suppliers, but at the same time it hasn't been easy as certain overheads have gone up. Buying a second store wasn't particularly part of the plan but when the opportunity came up it was obvious that if someone was willing to invest, the store had potential.
"I try to split my time between the two stores. It's quite convenient with them being just a short drive apart."
Dean was keen to make sure the South Nutfield store developed the same standards as its older sibling in Redhill and as such Holborn's established a good name from day one.
"We've managed to introduce the standards that our Redhill customers have come to expect," says Dean. "We had our YP epos system set up with the old stock on it the first day we opened. All the staff wear uniforms bearing our logo, and staff training is very important to the business. The staff who remained here had become very used to the old ways of the store. We had to train everyone to get to grips with the epos system and introduce new standards for merchandising - it's no good products sitting out the back in the store room where they can't be sold."
Dean admits that running the new store is not quite the same just because of the simple fact it's in a village, but he's pleased he gets some loyal cross-over customers. "There are a few differences between the stores, but the standards are the same across the board," he says. "There tends to be a greater demand for fresh fruit and veg here at the village store. A lot of customers are very conscious about the food they are buying."
Dean adds that the customer profile of the South Nutfield store is quite diverse, however. "Our customers include everyone from mums and toddlers to school children, builders and pensioners. It's important that we cater for everyone."
Dean points out that providing what customers want has changed a lot in his time as a retailer. "Without a doubt people expect a lot more from a modern c-store compared with what they expected a shop to offer a few years ago. The multiples have made everyone up their game. You need to continually re-invest and make sure that what you're offering is right."
One category enjoying particularly strong growth for Dean is alcohol. Installing large chillers has meant drinks can now be purchased chilled, and this has helped sales enormously.
"Alcohol sales at South Nutfield are up 40% year on year," he says. "Our remote refrigeration has certainly helped sales. People like the fact that they can pick up chilled beer and wine which they can take straight to a party or drink at home.
"We've also worked hard to make sure our fruit and veg sales continue to sell well, and that chilled products are performing at a good level. All our vegetables come from a fruit and veg wholesaler who lives just three doors away. We also sell honey and bread from a bakery in nearby Caterham and want to extend our local produce to items such as local meat."
Improvements to the village store have also included providing an extra third of magazine shelf space - a move that led to a 25% increase in sales. And that's not all, as Dean explains: "We've introduced fresh flowers and this year we offered farm fresh turkeys at Christmas from a turkey farm in nearby Smallfield. We also decided to offer fireworks in South Nutfield. We've been known as a good firework trader for years in Redhill and knew that the demand for them also existed in the village."
Food to go is another popular section at Holborn's. Baked goods and freshly baked baguettes supplied by Country Choice are good sellers says Dean, especially at weekends.
One thing you won't see, though, is a cash machine, as Dean has decided not to introduce ATMs in either store, as he explains: "I've chosen not to introduce ATMs as I think that while they may offer short-term gains, people are very aware of money these days and don't like being charged. I don't think they gain people's trust or loyalty, and customers can always take advantage of getting cashback instead."
Despite doubts over the future of post offices, Dean has no regrets about incorporating South Nutfield village post office into the store last year. The post office is run by Dean's colleague, Mike, and is proving a draw for customers at the Redhill store, who make good use of it.
Dean says: "We've invested a lot of money in the post office. The idea is to make it as strong as possible so hopefully we won't be affected by any closures. It's a bit of a worry, but we just have to be sure we're making the most of the services we can offer. We get quite a few customers who will come to the village post office to renew things like car tax, rather than head into the town centre."
Having a place in the community is also key to building customer loyalty, says Dean. Holborn's community work includes raising money for the local primary school, buying kit for the cricket team and sponsoring a football club in Redhill. Both stores have also collected for the local children's hospital and lifeboats charity.
Like many of his fellow retailers Dean does, of course, have a few gripes about his chosen profession, but he has had to learn to tolerate them. "The hours can be tough but they have to be to make the business worthwhile," he says. "Crime issues such as underage sales and shoplifting are high on the agenda. They are things I and every other retailer could do without, but you have to accept them as a part of the job and remember that the rewards should be worth it in the end."
In fact, the future remains bright for the South Nutfield store and the plans for improvement haven't stopped yet, as Dean explains: "We may be looking at our opening hours soon but we'll have to be sure that the demand is there first. We've also got plans to introduce tables and chairs out the front some time this year so that customers can sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee and a bite to eat. The shop is already a focal point for the village and we'll be looking to reinforce that further."
While Holborn's is Mace affiliated, Dean is adamant he will remain independent and build on the name his shoppers already trust. "We've got a great name in the area and I don't want the stores to lose their individuality," he says. "As far as I'm concerned, it's non-negotiable at the moment. If I was starting out fresh today I would almost definitely join a symbol group, but I'm not going to give up the loyalty we've developed over the years."

Factfile


size:
900sq ft plus post office
Staff numbers:
Four part-time plus two post office staff
Opening hours:
Monday to Saturday, 6am-6.30pm; Sunday 7am-1pm

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