Former Budgens manager Jason Tamplin has created a unique convenience business within a treasure trove of a variety store in rural Somerset.

Take a trip down the A road between Taunton and Bridgwater and you’ll come across a rather extra- ordinary convenience business. Established by David Williams about 60 years ago, Gwilliams of Edington is not a new business, but thanks to a dramatic change of direction spearheaded by former Budgens store manager Jason Tamplin, it’s been injected with a fresh and intensely exciting lease of life.

Originally founded as a general hardware store and specialist lawnmower centre, the family-owned business had accumulated several other orbital categories over the years (pet supplies, a smattering of local ambient foodstuffs and an in-store café), but it had never entered the convenience arena proper - or even thought of it until December 2013, when the local Post Office was re-located into its vast treasure trove-like interior.

When we say treasure trove we mean it -almost every home gadget and gizmo under the sun can be found inside - from fireplace grates to jam jar lids, waders, spare lawnmower parts, even books and second-hand clothes - it’s a veritable Aladdin’s Cave in the heart of Somerset.

Jason, who at the time was still managing the successful Symonds Budgens forecourt store in nearby Wells, picks up the thread: “Getting the Post Office changed things for the business; footfall suddenly increased and shoppers started asking us why it couldn’t stock a full convenience range.”

Store facts

Gwilliams of Edington

Size: 1,600sq ft

Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday 8am till 7pm, Sunday 9am till 12.30pm

Staff: 20 on full site, eight full-time in the convenience store

Average basket spend: £7-plus

Services: Post Office

Social media: Facebook

Twitter: @gwilliamsstore

Spread over a two-storey warehouse, with ample land and parking all around, and with no other real competition, it was certainly a viable idea. It just needed a person with the correct vision, drive and industry insight to execute it. Living in the small village of Edington, it wasn’t long before Jason heard about the challenge, and after careful consideration, and with the blessing of the team at Symonds, and the Williams family, he jumped at the chance.

“I knew it would be hard work, but I also knew that I had the expertise to take the step up,” he explains. “It just seemed like too exciting an opportunity to miss.”

And so, just a few short months later, Jason took up the reins as project and eventual store manager. One of his first actions was to join a symbol group - and Nisa fast emerged as the pick of the bunch. “It was important to me that we weren’t part of a restrictive group. It became quickly apparent that Nisa was the right fit for the area and how I planned to manage the business,” he says. “It offers the perfect balance of support and space that we need.”

The summer of 2014 saw Jason, the Nisa team and local electricians and builders work together to transform “dead space” at the rear of the hardware store into a fully- fledged convenience shop-within-a-shop. Local electricians were used to wire it all up and the rustic-style stone floor was laid by another local company, lending the store a more personal and rural feel.

Customers can gain direct access into the convenience store from the back of the large warehouse complex, where there is also parking for more than 30 cars -or via a large archway in the main hardware section of the business, where shoppers are greeted with newspapers & magazines, cards and wrapping paper.

Customers are thrilled with the result. About 150 local people thronged to the store for its official opening day where, along with the local MP, they enjoyed celebratory drinks and food, and a tour of the shiny new store.

At 1,600sq ft it boasts a comprehensive chilled offer which, just five months after opening, already accounts for 30% of sales. “We’ve had to tweak the range a few times since opening as we quickly realised that shoppers weren’t using us as much as we expected for impulse goods; they were shopping the whole store and buying lots of chilled goods to cook meals from scratch,” Jason explains.

“Average basket spend is already more than £7 and growing month on month. Home baking is also far more popular than we first anticipated and we’ve already increased that fixture from 1m to 2m. Impulse, crisps and chocolate have been cut back and the space replaced with an extended grocery range in line with shopper demand. We really wanted our shoppers to have a say on the range and so spent quite a bit of time after we’d opened talking to them about what they would really like to see and have adapted the range accordingly, which they have greatly appreciated. It’s a win-win situation for all.”

And customer engagement hasn’t stopped there, with a raft of events planned for the summer including a spring fun day in April which will include local product tastings, a dog agility show and lawnmower demonstrations on its surrounding land.

Recognising the huge importance of social media, Jason has also relaunched the business’ website and added both a Facebook page and a Twitter feed to better interact with local people. It’s clearly working, with more than 130 likes on the Facebook page and a great many positive shopper endorsements. In fact, it was via Facebook that he recruited most of the new store’s staff. Since opening he’s already held a number of other engaging activities including a Shrove Tuesday Pancake tasting station which went down a treat with local shoppers.

Unsurprisingly, the Williams family have been thrilled with the results - so much so that just a few months after opening, Jason was promoted from store manager to managing director of the whole business.

And he’s certainly not resting on his laurels following the well-deserved promotion. Once a simple drainage issue is fixed, Jason also plans to complement the store’s range with a bake-off and food-to-go offer this summer. Solar panels will eventually be fitted on the building’s expansive flat roof to help keep energy bills in check, and Jason has just signed up to PayPoint and hopes to get the National Lottery next, which would help boost footfall yet further.

Big plans are also in the pipeline to move the in-store café, currently tucked away on the first floor of the hardware store, to directly above the convenience store where large windows look out across the picturesque Somerset countryside.

Once this is done, he’s even considering opening a small hair salon adjacent to the café and making the business a true one-stop shop for locals.

Aware of the demand for quality pet food and supplies Jason is also planning to build a dedicated ‘pet zone’ in the hardware store, along with a ‘garden zone’ to complement its existing range of bedding plants and shrubs.

New signage to better communicate the presence of the Nisa store inside the main building is also being worked on in a bid to capture more passing trade, along with local sales.

With so many exciting propositions and plans for the future, we’re sure it won’t be long before they come flocking.

Local goods

The store stocks a wide range of local goods from the local Master Butcher Jon Thorner’s in nearby Shepton Mallet. The range includes premium fresh meats and a variety of deli-style items such as handmade scotch eggs and the best selling Giant Steak Pasty, which flies off the shelf for £3.99.

Local ales are also a growing category and Jason has introduced a dedicated section for popular brands such as Cheddar Ales’ Totty Pot and Pot Holer. “These type of products add a further point of difference to the store and are popular with local people and passing trade alike,” adds Jason.