When walking through the quiet village of Pewsey in Wiltshire, the word dynamic doesn’t exactly spring to mind. But at the very heart of the community is a hardworking retail team who are striving to build up community links through new ideas and engagement with customers - the very epitome of dynamic.
The team at Spar Pewsey, part of the Connolly group of stores, is managed by Dave Benson (pictured above), and after only a couple of minutes in his company you realise how much he cares about his customers and wants to improve engagement with them. He’s not the only one, either. Susan Connolly (pictured above), business development manager for Connolly Spar, used to be manager at the store and so the customer base is close to her heart.
Spar Pewsey, Wiltshire
Size: 1,500sq ft
Opening hours: 6.30am-10.30pm seven days a week
Features: Free car park for customers, free cash machine
Community engagement: Donated toys to a local playgroup, offers free deliveries, sponsored Pewsey Carnival
Knowing that happy customers shop more regularly and spend more, the team are keen to grow links wherever possible and improve upon their 24% year-on-year rise in footfall and 15% rise in turnover. It’s a big ask as the team have come a long way since the store first opened in 2010, when they found it tough going to bond with the close-knit community. With a population of just over 3,200, breaking Pewsey shoppers’ habits was crucial if they were to succeed, especially with a large Co-operative store just down the road. Dave says they have managed it through a lot of hard work. “We would see shoppers pass by the shop every day on their way to another store and seemingly not even realise that we were here,” he says. “Little by little it changed for us and now we’ve become the centrepoint of Pewsey village.”
He puts the turnaround down to the hard work that the team did engaging with the community. They decided to sponsor the annual Pewsey carnival, which is a highlight in the village’s calendar, ensuring that Spar branding is everywhere to be seen. And one year when sponsoring a local event, they covered the entire main street of the village in Spar-branded balloons and inflatable tubes. “They went down really well with the children and some adults,” says Susan. “I was walking up the street handing them out and when I turned around, the entire street was so full of Spar branding that you couldn’t escape it.”
Not content with the endless dressing up that goes on in the store in aid of charity, Susan is taking a giant leap to raise money for community projects in Pewsey by doing a 15,000ft tandem skydive. She hopes to raise £3,000 for various initiatives including Pewsey Carnival Children’s Party, Pewsey women’s netball team and Oare Primary School.
“People often come in and ask us for support with projects they have going on,” says Susan. “Raising money through a sponsored skydive is a great way to help out. It’s a good way of generating money for a cause, but not necessarily giving it ourselves as we can’t always manage to do that.”
Calendar events provide the perfect opportunity for celebrating with the community and promoting the store at the same time. There’s the sampling events tied in with national days such as St David’s Day and St Patrick’s Day, and Christmas when Dave dresses up as Santa, with Susan as his elf, for a grotto they set up in store where they give a free toy and selection box to every child. For Halloween they had a ‘guess the murder victim’, where a member of the team lay on the floor and they drew an outline of their body for customers to guess who it was and win a prize.
Dave says they’ll try almost anything to help build their relationship with customers and do something new to entertain them. “These ideas usually start as a wacky thought or a joke, but then they actually happen and the customers love them,” he says. “Even though the grotto was quiet the first year, customers still expected us to do it the next year, so it obviously went down well.”
Local community groups are the main beneficiaries of the team’s enthusiasm to get involved. The latest to be helped out is the Pewsey Carnival Children’s Party, when Susan will be jumping out of a plane to raise funds (see panel on next page).
“They were struggling to find sponsorship and they were worried that it might not be able to go ahead so I promised £1,000 from the money I’m raising by doing a skydive,” says Susan.
Always striving to find new ways to help others, they hit upon a goldmine of an idea to give free goods to a local playgroup. “We started collecting the free toys that were on the front of unsold magazines that usually would go in the bin and gave them to a local playgroup,” says Susan. “It cost us nothing, but it meant a lot to them and enhanced our reputation.”
The store’s success isn’t all down to hard work in fundraising and organising community events, though. Dave and Susan have high standards for the store and as a result are picky about who works there. Despite it being open from 6.30am to 10.30pm seven days a week, there are just six members of staff to share the load. Susan says that they want the right people to work at Spar Pewsey. “Our team there is incredibly loyal and work very hard,” she says. “I struggle to think when the last time one of them called in sick; it just doesn’t happen.”
The staff take so much pride in the store that one of them spends an hour every day before he even starts his shift cleaning the front of the store and sprucing up the car park at the back.
“John, who looks after the car park, has made a huge difference to the appearance of the outside of the store, making sure it’s properly weeded, the car parking lines are clear and that it’s free of rubbish,” says Susan. “It’s this care and attention to the job that helps the store and the team to be so successful.”
Plans for the future
Even though there’s plenty going on for the team, Dave has big plans for the future and hopes to expand the store’s fresh fruit and vegetable offering. “I want to move the fruit and vegetables to the front of the store, work with more suppliers and create a more country-style offering with more single units that will be displayed with baskets and bespoke signage,” he says. “It’ll be a perfect fit for the area as well as something else the competition doesn’t offer.”
With the Co-op down the road always looking to take their business, you may think that the staff are losing sleep, but that’s not the case at all. “We used to be more worried about what they did. In fact, when the Co-op first opened I was thrown out twice for taking photographs, but nowadays I know we’re better and can compete on price on a lot of lines,” Dave says. “I also get a lot of feedback from customers who tell us that they don’t have any worthwhile promotions, so we know the customers are on our side. I think the Co-op is more threatened by us than the other way around, which gives us time to focus on our community engagement and that in turn helps us to be better than them.”
Dave believes customer service is key to staying ahead. “If a customer asks us to get something in, we’ll do our best to get it for them,” he says. “We bought in a lot of Monster energy drinks that we sell on promotion below the pricemarked rrp because we know our customers like it, so we can plan that into our ordering. It’s these efforts that make the store successful.”
It is this level of detail that also sets them apart, he believes. “When customers come to a store like this the staff know their name and probably what they want to buy,” he says. “You just don’t get that level of service at the multiples, and people do appreciate it and will come back to us again.”