On New Year's Eve 2004, husband and wife Vernon Tyerman and Jenny Kerry completed the purchase of an ailing store on the Isle of Wight. The new year ahead was to prove a challenging one as the Chale Green store was in need of some serious work. But sticking to their resolutions has paid off and 18 months on turnover has almost quadrupled from an average £3,000 to more than £11,000 a week.
After proving they could turn round the store's fortunes, Vernon and Jenny signed up to Londis - a move they say has proved extremely worthwhile as first-time retailers. "We're doing at least as well as we expected, if not better," says Vernon. "The more you learn, though, the more you see what can be done."
Their steep learning curve began with a refit at the end of their first month in charge. As Vernon explains: "We could see it was potentially a good business so we had a major refit and trebled our stock. The previous owners had no storage space and put everything straight on the shelves so often ran out of products. The refit helped with space and we bought a large container which we placed in the backyard for extra storage."
While tourism is big business, they say they first and foremost cater for the 720 Chale Green residents - a community they've been a part of since 2000. The locals and shoppers from nearby villages keep trade going throughout the year while summer tourism results in a 30% increase in trade. The couple believe a £15,000 week is not out of the question.
Jenny comments: "The island gets about three million visitors each year so we benefit from a lot of passing trade from tourists. Cowes Week is particularly busy, as is the annual music festival. There are eight or nine events that attract 10,000-50,000 people. On top of these and the normal holiday trade, we also have a busy period throughout the Chale show in August."
The couple set themselves three targets when they opened - "friendliness, convenience and availability" - and to let people know about the store have advertised on Isle of Wight radio, in the Yellow Pages and Wight Life, a magazine produced by Wightlink Isle of Wight ferries.
The friendliness of the store has been boosted recently by the addition of Mrs Brown's Café, named after the original owner of the store. While the area is not yet quite as Vernon and Jenny envisage, it does provide a pleasant environment to sit for a coffee. Souvenirs, pictures and DVDs are sold from the café shelves.
"We want to introduce a proper deli counter and sell food to order in the cafe area," says Vernon. "We have an on-licence which will be part of our future plans. And although they are not yet that popular, we've placed picnic tables in the garden where people can socialise. We get people bringing their laptops down to use the wireless internet access. They typically spend about £10, which is income we would otherwise have missed out on."
Fresh and local produce is also important to the duo and they admit they would like to stock more. Says Vernon: "We try to get as many local products in as possible and stock local tomatoes and asparagus, but they are hard to get hold of. We want to improve our fresh offering but it's not easy because of the short shelf life. We get fresh produce deliveries twice a week and have a wastage book so that we can keep track of everything. We also offer fruit and veg at half price when it is approaching its best-before date."
Work on the wine section has certainly proved worthwhile. "We've worked hard to get the wine section right," he adds. "People are willing to pay a bit more for a decent bottle so it's worth getting it right. We've organised the wine by country and then also on to everyday, mid-range or party and premium."
Other services include dry-cleaning, home delivery and a prescription collection service as there is no surgery in the village. The post office also draws customers although Vernon believes it is a double-edged sword as it restricts some items and services the store can offer.
So far the store has escaped direct competition from the major multiples. However, with Southern Co-op having recently purchased the Davids chain on the island, Vernon knows it's vital Chale Green stays ahead of the competition.
"We do have an advantage of being away from the major multiples as the big towns are mainly on the north of the island, but we still need to show that we have something to offer. We have a website and provide home delivery. We're going to paint a delivery vehicle with our logo."
The support of the community is important to Vernon and Jenny and loyalty is rewarded by the store's 'Local Rewards' scheme. Every five pounds spent earns a stamp and customers can claim a £5 discount when they collect 40 stamps.
Vernon and Jenny also reward their staff and have set up a bonus scheme for both managers and sales assistants. Vernon explains: "We reward our staff with a cash bonus scheme based on sales. It means everyone is working towards a target and it creates a good atmosphere."
The owners are full of ideas and plans for the future. In the pipeline is an ambitious rebuild of the purpose-built shop and house to provide a modern store setup. "It will be very expensive but worth doing for the business in the long term. It would enable us to have a proper café with a deli-counter and we could do food-to-order between 10am-4pm. We could also make more of the outdoor area. We're lucky that we have a lot of space to work with."
And the plans don't stop there, as Vernon explains: "As part of updating the store we're also considering installing solar panels and wind turbines. Energy is our highest out-going after food and wages. I'm looking to see if anyone would like to get involved in sponsoring us."
The next few years, then, are likely to prove busy for Vernon, Jenny and the team. But if their first 18 months as retailers are anything to go by, Chale Green Stores has bright and profitable future.

Factfile


Store size 800sq ft
Number of employees 9 (3 part-time)
opening hours 7am-9pm, Monday to Saturday
8am-9pm, Sunday

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