All village store owners strive to put themselves at the centre of their communities, and Bob Bettesworth has been the heart and soul of his for the past 60 years.
A lot has changed in the 61 years that Bob Bettesworth has graced the counter of his independently-owned convenience store in the rural Surrey village of Newdigate.
Ration books have been replaced by credit cards, and the arduous pedal- powered newspaper round has been swapped for a footfall fantastic in-store collection scheme. But while the business, now fondly known as ‘Bob’s Shop’, has moved with the times, its core ethos hasn’t budged a bit.
Established by Bob’s father back in 1952, the store is undeniably the heart of the local community. And thanks to sturdy links with the local school, theatrical society, pub, parish and local council, it’s beating as strong as ever. In fact, this year saw Bob almost achieve his goal of turning over a million pounds, a figure he’d only ever dreamed of when he started out as a young lad all those years ago.
Bob’s Shop, Newdigate, Surrey
Size: 1,200sq ft
Average basket spend: £6
Staff: Five part time
Weekly turnover: about £18,000
Footfall: 550 customers a day on average
Additional Services: dry-cleaning, post office, National Lottery, defibrillator, shoe and clothing recycling, hot food and drinks to go, sandwich bar
Back then JC Bettesworth, as it was originally known, was a 10ft by 10ft CTN and post office, one of six other shops in the village. “We’re now the only shop left,” Bob explains. “We started out as a CTN and then gradually added more and more categories until we became a fully-fledged convenience store when the village’s only other grocery shop closed down.”
Bob and his dad used to do the 80-mile round trip to Booker’s Bognor branch in an old second-hand removals van once a week. “One night we got stopped at the top of Handcross Hill and were fined £300 for overloading, which was a lot of money back then. We told Booker that we’d no longer be able to do the trips to and from its depot, and from that moment on they delivered goods to us.
“We’ve stuck with them ever since and now receive two deliveries a week, plus additional drops from local suppliers such as Westcott Bakery and Bangers Galore sausages, which are made a few miles away.”
Their store, which joined the Premier symbol group eight years ago, has a number of ‘hero’ categories including wine, tobacco, cards and grocery, where the Euro Shopper brand is king.
“Takings are really good at the moment and own label products are definitely stealing a march on brands,” Bob explains. “We might be coming out of a recession, but shoppers are still watching their pennies. Booker is currently selling its Euro Shopper jams at ‘2 for £2’ and they are flying off the shelves.”
Unlike many small stores, Bob has the luxury of a large stock room which allows him to bulk buy items on promotion. “I’ve got about £50,000-worth of stock in there at the moment. For me, gaps on shelves are a big no-no, and being a rural store it’s a real advantage to have such a stockpile, especially with some of the wet and wild weather that we’ve recently encountered.
“We store it up and trickle it onto the shelves as and when we need to. Doing this enables us to keep our prices low but, more importantly, consistent, which is key for people on a budget.”
However, there are some products that people will happily shell out a little extra on, such as local sausages, meats, eggs and breads. “We sell hundreds more sausages from the local supplier Bangers Galore, than we do Booker’s Butcher’s Market ones,” reveals Bob.
The store’s key strength, however, is food to go, thanks to its prime location on a busy main road through the village.
“We are excellently located for passing trade and turn over more than £1,500 a week on food-to-go items such as sausage rolls and pasties, which have excellent profits attached to them. People just don’t seem to have breakfast at home anymore they’d rather stop in on their way to work.
“My son gets in at 5am so that the first batch of pastries is ready for 5.30am when the builders and workmen stop by. Our lunch offer is also popular and we now offer made-to-order sandwiches and baguettes from a sandwich bar at the rear of the store. We might also introduce an evening meal solution which could help to boost footfall between 6.30pm and 8pm when it does tend to tail off a bit.”
There is a downside to all this success, though. “The only problem is that with our ovens almost permanently on, the store’s electricity bills are now hitting £3,000 a quarter, which is a worry given the soaring cost of energy,” Bob adds.
Another challenge that Bob will be squaring up to this year is parking, or the potential loss of it. Bob’s local council is conducting a parking review which includes a proposal to paint double yellow lines on the kerb to the left of the store - a move which Bob fears could harm trade.
“I’d say that 80% of our passing trade comes by car, so the addition of these yellow lines could be a real blow to our sales, and particularly food-to-go sales,” he asserts.
He is planning to fight the proposals, and hopes that his position as a parish councillor will stand him in good stead - particularly as the parish council backed his original request to have the curb outside the store dropped to enable people to pull up.
The support of his loyal shoppers will also be key and Bob certainly looks well-placed to receive it. As a former school governor, member of the local amateur dramatics’ society, sponsor of the local cricket team and much more besides, Bob has become something of a local celebrity. Just a few months ago he was asked to cut the ribbon at the opening of 12 new council houses in the village, and even the local school kids have invented a ‘Bob’s Shop’ rap about him.
“Supporting the school remains close to my heart. We’ll always do our bit for sports days, fun days and the various clubs they run. I know all of the local children by name and the same goes for their parents, many of whom I knew as children themselves.”
However, the community’s esteem was never more evident than at the store’s 60th anniversary last autumn. More than 500 local people attended the fun-filled celebration, which was held in a barn owned by one of his shoppers, and covered in a full-page feature by the local newspaper.
In addition to a surprise cake in the shape of the store, local shoppers also chipped in to have a commemorative photo book printed and filled with heart-felt messages of thanks and goodwill.
“We couldn’t believe how many people turned up to celebrate with us it was something I’ll remember for ever. That party and the celebration that we held for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee are two of the highest points of my career,” he adds.
His recent role in the village’s Christmas panto can’t have been far behind. “I played the local village shopkeeper and got to wear my Premier uniform. It was a great laugh and so popular that we put on extra shows.”
Looking ahead, Bob’s still hoping to hit that £1m target, and confident it can be done. “Turnover has always grown every year, and 2013 was certainly no exception thanks to the long hot summer,” he says.
With the continued support of his local community, we’re sure he’ll make it. But, of course, for his shoppers he’s already one in a million anyway.