When Steve Keast entered the world of retail 25 years ago, he never realised it would lead to him carrying the Olympic Torch.
Just outside Doncaster in Bentley, South Yorkshire, Daw to Doors seems like any other community store. Close to three schools, it does a roaring trade in soft drinks and confectionery, and owner Steve Keast is always up for some banter with his customers. Of late, though, the conversation has been of one topic, as Steve is an Olympic Torch Bearer, chosen by Convenience Store for a spot provided by Coca-Cola for his fantastic work in the community.
To be one of 8,000 people selected to participate in the Olympic Torch Relay is quite an achievement and it’s one Steve doesn’t take lightly. When he applied last year he thought he didn’t have a chance, and even when he was shortlisted before Christmas he never really believed that he would be selected. “It’s amazing, really - you see the number of people who applied and they chose me,” says Steve. “It’s quite humbling.”
Since it was announced that Steve would be participating in the run, he has been swamped by well-wishers. “Customers come in to tell me how proud they are,” he says. “A lot of them have been saying that they can’t believe that someone they know, rather than a celebrity, gets to carry the Olympic Torch. It makes them proud of their area and the people who live there. It makes them part of the event and it’s a credit to the organisers that they were able to involve the whole country this way.”
The competition to be a Torch Bearer was hotly contested, with hundreds of thousands of applicants. So what made Steve so special? It’s all down to his commitment to helping young people in his area.
Steve has been running the store since 1987 when, after a decade in the army, he thought that retail would be a good move for him and his wife, Nina. A quarter of a century later and Steve is fully involved in the community.
“It was tough at first,” he says. “Even after an army background, it was still hard work when we first opened, but we persevered and now everyone knows us and comes to us.”
When the couple started taking on more staff, Steve found he had a bit more time on his hands and wanted to give something back. “About 10 years ago, I started talking to the local kids and they expressed an interest in running,” he explains. “I had organised a lot of competitions in the army and was keeping that going, so I started training them in a local park.”
At first Steve found himself facing some tough challenges. “Unfortunately, some of the parents didn’t do much to encourage their children, so it made it quite difficult for them and me,” he says.
Slowly but surely Steve started to win them over and more kids became involved. “They would come to me for advice on technique and what trainers to wear,” he says. “Soon adults started asking the same advice and wanting me to coach them. It was fantastic, really satisfying to help them and to see them have a bit more purpose in life by working towards something.”
Steve’s next plan is to organise a running holiday abroad for some of the kids. “Hopefully, it’ll inspire them to take up more sports and change their lifestyles,” he says.
He’s also become something of a celebrity in the area since the Torch Run, with constant requests to present medals and give talks at local schools. “There’s been a lot to do, but I don’t want to let anybody down,” says Steve. “There’s a fair on next week and they’ve asked me to give a speech, so instead I suggested that they organise some races and I’ll sponsor the event and pay for some medals.
“It has been very busy lately later this week I’m visiting two schools in one afternoon to give speeches,” he says. “It’s been a lot to fit in, but it’s great fun.”
Although Steve is involved in many community activities, he insists it’s not for financial gain. “The business is doing well anyway,” he says. “I just wanted to give something back to the area that has been so good to me and my family. While it hasn’t noticeably increased turnover, community engagement helps cement what you’re doing and the service you’re offering.
“It also helps build some respect in the community,” adds Steve. “There’s often gangs passing through, causing trouble, but they never give us any problems. Most probably came in here as kids so they know us well. That’s what community retailing is all about the personal touch that you’ll never get at a supermarket.”
What advice does Steve have for any retailer who wants to get more involved in their community? “First off, get to know your customers and what type of people they are,” he says. “Just because running and sports works here doesn’t mean it’ll work everywhere. If there are events in your area, attend them and find out what people are looking for.
“Do your research, find out how you can get involved and be prepared to put in some time outside of the store,” he says. “It can be tough finding the extra time, but it’s very rewarding.”
Steve’s proud moment
Convenience Store caught up with Steve as he completed his Olympic Torch Relay in Doncaster. Although his 450-metre section was no trouble for a seasoned runner like Steve, he says it’s an experience that he’ll never forget.
“In the build-up to the run, I had lots of mixed emotions,” says Steve. “I was anxious, nervous, excited, everything! But once I got going, the adrenaline was pumping. I’m so proud to have been given the opportunity to do this. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Coca-Cola Enterprises sales & customer development director Darren Goldney congratulated Steve and the other torch bearers. “They are all outstanding people who spread happiness in their local communities to make Britain burn brighter,” he says.