This father and son are famous in their community for their traditional family-run stores, so after converting their newsagents into a Budgens store double the size, how have Chris and Phil Shelley found their leap into symbol retailing?

Father and son team Phil and Chris Shelley have emerged cautiously triumphant after diving into the world of symbol retailing for the first time in their family’s 50-year history within retail.

They undertook a major redevelopment project to merge their small newsagent with the Spar store next door, meaning they were not only taking on double the floor space, to 2,800sq ft, but they were also delving into the convenience sector with a wealth of fresh food. After five years of deliberating such a move, Shelley’s News in Horsham, West Sussex, turned into Shelley’s Budgens of Holbrook.

During the £400k, seven-week refit, Shelley’s News and its Post Office continued to serve the community out of a temporary serving window, closing completely for two-and-a-half weeks – a comparatively short period considering the extent of the work.

The store opened last November, just in time for a manic Christmas rush, giving the convenience novices no time to dip their toes in and check the temperature.

Store facts

Shelley’s Budgens 
of Holbrook

Size: 2,800sq ft

Turnover: £50,000

Footfall: 10,500

Basket spend: £7.40

Opening hours: Monday to Friday 7am to 9pm, Saturday 7.30am to 9pm, Sunday 8am to 9pm

But after undertaking a big marketing push, delivering 12,000 leaflets and money-off vouchers to homes in the area, the community was keen to jump in – the local paper even ran the news of the opening on its front page. Chris quickly saw that their efforts were going to pay off. “We could see before the move that the way sales and the industry were going that there wasn’t a sustainable future for a newsagent,” he says.

“Opening day was crazy with it being just before Christmas. People were queueing up outside. Now that I’ve done it I can see that it was good to open before Christmas, but when I was leaving here at midnight and coming back in at 6.30am every day, I wasn’t so sure.”

After the initial high, though, sales began to steady. Says Chris: “There was a definite spike for the first few weeks, then it dropped off, but in the past few weeks it’s been growing steadily by about £400 each week.”

Their turnover on the site, since the refit, has increased from £20,000 to £50,000 per week. Footfall stands at about 10,500 per week and the store boasts an average basket spend of £7.40. “We’ve had a few people spending over £100 in one shop, which has surprised me,” Chris adds.

The duo budgeted ‘cautiously’ and expectations were that it would take about five years to get their investment back, but Chris says he is now feeling confident it will be quicker than anticipated.

It’s hardly surprising that locals were excited for the new venture given the family has such a positive reputation in the market town of Horsham. Shelley’s is a third-generation family business and has been trading in Horsham for more than 40 years. The first Shelley shop was opened in the 1950s in the village of Warnham by Norman Shelley, father to Phil and grandfather to Chris. Just two miles away from Holbrook, it was a traditional village newsagents with sweets sold by the quarter pound.

The new store is a far cry from that, but Phil and Chris are still keen to cultivate their local roots by selling a wide variety of local produce at the Budgens store, including eggs, butter, chocolate, jams, pies, juices and ales. The store stocks Bangers Galore sausages along with Horsham Gingerbread, Sussex Charmer cheeses, Delect cookie dough, Pure English Honey from Hassocks, and more.

“They are all popular,” says Chris. “The Horsham Gingerbread was particularly popular before Christmas as people were buying it as a present.”

The duo visited other Budgens stores to get advice before the big move and David Knight, of Budgens in Hassocks, proved to be an invaluable source of local knowledge, helping Chris to choose local suppliers and encouraging him to stock several from the off in order to make a good impression to customers.

Budgens also helped out, providing shelf-edge markers and feature shelving to make the speciality and local products stand out and providing information about the producers.

As well as a wealth of local produce, Chris wanted to provide a healthy selection of fresh bread and bakery items. He ended up spending what he thought was probably too much for a fresh baked goods table, but pleasingly the investment has paid off and the attractive wooden trays encourage people to pick up the pastries, doughnuts and fresh breads.

They have also made space for a small section of Free From products, a Costa Express coffee machine and hot food to go, while the Post Office Local counter allows customers to access services when the post office itself is closed.

With this being the family’s first experience of symbol retailing, they were lucky to have a good knowledge of their customers and of the demographics of the area, but selecting the right symbol group was a decision not to be taken lightly.

Explaining the decision to go with Budgens, Chris says: “We just thought about who our competition is and what we can do to provide something they don’t have. The main competition is a Co-op and as a Budgens we can provide a fresher and more interesting range.”

The symbol group also helped Chris create the light and open layout which he was aiming for, with low shelving which allows customers to see right into the back of the store from the front door.

Chris admits he needed all the help he could get from Budgens when it came to the fresh food offer.

“Going into convenience has been a steep learning curve. Fresh food has been a challenge. We started off with a lot of wastage, then we told the staff making the orders to calm down, then we had times when we had empty shelves. Now we are starting to get the balance right.”

Fresh produce hasn’t been the only challenge. “The scale of the business has tripled so everything is harder. We’ve nearly doubled our staffing team, from about 20 to nearly 40. It’s so much bigger – the volume of stock, the pay roll, everything used to be simpler!”

But the pair still want to stay true to their heritage and so you’ll find larger than average greetings cards and confectionery sections. Chris claims that these sections should continue to yield good sales as they were what Shelley’s News was so well known for – helped by the fact the store is close to two primary schools and a bus stop.

In terms of future plans, Phil is looking to hand over the day-to-day running of the store to Chris so that he is able to enjoy a well-earned retirement. Although this sizeable investment may not have helped Phil reach that goal as early as he may have hoped, Chris says he knows they have made the right move for the good of their family legacy.

“The main aim was to provide something which would encourage people to turn left instead of right when they get in their car, and come to Budgens instead of Co-op. I’m pleased we’ve achieved that and this will be a more viable business for the future.”