A small store in the heart of the Surrey Hills has found the perfect balance of trade by appealing to its local community and the hordes of cyclists there for a ride.
When the British cycling team were practising in the Surrey Hills in preparation for the Olympic 2012 road race, there can surely be only one thing that kept the cyclists’ muscles pumping and wheels turning when the gradients hit 12%: the tempting thought of a stop-off at Peaslake Village Store and a taste of its now renowned cheese straws.
The vertiginous climbs and stunning vistas have made the area a mecca for cycling enthusiasts of all levels of expertise, as well as walkers, and the small village shop provides the perfect pit-stop for refuelling with its home-made fare, from hot coffee and quiches to pork and leek plait.
Co-owner Gill Lucken (pictured above)acknowledges that it is the trade from the bikers that enables her and her team to run the 1,291sq ft independent store as they want to: providing a core range of groceries, alcohol, homecare products and fresh produce for the locals, along with a wide choice of premium specialist lines, many from producers just a few miles away. “The cyclists provide revenue that keeps us going; the community has the store they have because of the bikers. It’s a partnership,” explains Gill. Adds store manager Gaynor Summersby: “As well as standard groceries, their trade allows us to offer the higher-end products we wouldn’t otherwise be able to. We can keep the village’s local shop stocked with nice things, rather than just surviving.”
Peaslake Village Stores
Size: 1,291sq ft
Staff: 12 part-time (six core staff)
Services: Post Office counter, local produce, photocopier, alcohol
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 7am-6.30pm, Saturday 8am-6.30pm, Sunday 8am-5pm
Both Gill and Gaynor acknowledge that the number of cyclists flocking to the store has increased considerably since the Olympics, as interest in the sport has grown. And on that wave of enthusiasm word has spread among cycling groups all over the country that they can get a warm welcome and warming food and drinks from the Surrey store.
The publicity is a good thing as, alongside the c-store, the tucked away village boasts only a pub and restaurant (the freehold of which is owned by the c-store’s other co-owner, Simon Best), and Pedal and Spoke, a cycle repair shop. “You have to come off the beaten track to find us,” says Gill, who points out that is has been put on the map by the number of online mentions and You Tube films posted by cycling groups.
While the local community may not always have welcomed the biking fraternity with open arms - when C-Store visits the handy bus stop and benches opposite the store are overflowing with Lycra-clad sports people - there is no doubt they and the many community groups benefit greatly from the village store. Gill’s involvement in the business began when she and Simon took it on at a time when it was “without a rudder” six years ago, principally to save it, despite the fact Simon had his own business and Gill had retired from a career in accountancy. Says Gaynor: “The store was in a pretty bad way; Simon and Gill have spent a lot bringing it up to scratch. It had had very little investment for several years and Gill and Simon have ploughed back in profits to make it shipshape. They don’t run it as a source of income.”
One of the beneficiaries has been the village school, which faced closure when it was deemed that numbers were too low for it to be sustainable. Fundraising by the store has included providing refreshments for the school’s summer fair, raffle prizes and drinks at the Christmas by Candlelight concert held in the local church.
The Friends of the Hurtwood, the group set up to maintain the paths and trails in the stunning woodland surrounding the store, also gain from the store owners’ generosity, to the tune of £4,000-5,000 over the years.
Gaynor says that locals appreciate what Gill and Simon have done for their village. “We get an awful lot of support for the shop,” she says proudly.
It’s clear to see, as when C-Store visits, the store is a-buzz with locals in to collect newspapers, use the post office counter, or pick up something for dinner. The store, organised over two floors, is crammed with all the lines a community would need, and local producers play a big role in the mix.
“We try where we can to stock local products above and beyond the deliveries we get of standard groceries from P&H,” Gaynor explains. “We stock cheese and continental meats from The Cheese Man, who knows everything about cheese; wines from Dorking wine merchant The Vineyard; Loseley ice creams; and meats from John Murray in Loxwood, and cakes from Celebration Cakes in Cranleigh.”
In the run up to Christmas, the store hosted a cheese and wine tasting, helped by suppliers The Cheese Man and The Vineyard, where shoppers had a chance to sample the Sussex produce and order wines for Christmas.
Christmas is very much on their minds as the staff are taking orders for Bramble Farm turkeys reared in nearby Horsley, and the Christmas window display had been in place since the beginning of November.
It is, in fact, winter when the store comes into its own as a community hub and locals are either loathe to - or can’t - negotiate the steep climbs out of Peaslake to reach larger stores. “When the snow made the adjacent roads impassable last year we were the only place you could get to,” recalls Gaynor. And when their supplies ran out, willing volunteers with 4x4 vehicles headed out to bring in bread and milk from elsewhere. “One of our customers even skiied down the hill to our door - it was manic,” laughs Gaynor.
The staff themselves are also willing to go the extra mile to help customers. “We’ll do home deliveries to the elderly for no extra charge,” says Gaynor. “And there have been numerous times when I’ve ferried people to nearby Gomshall when the bus has failed to turn up and they have been left stranded.”
The 12-strong team of part-time workers are a loyal bunch and have been with the store for many years. Gill says: “We have long-term employees - the last staff member left after five or six years with us only because she moved out of the area.” Adds Gaynor: “It’s a team effort - everybody chips in and has an input. We have our own areas of interest, but everyone has to be able to do everything.”
The store may have a loyal workforce and supportive customers, but it still faces challenges and Gill is conscious of the need to continually re-invest in the business to prevent competition such as the internet eating away at trade. As such, the new year will bring a revamp of the store. The first floor will be reconfigured to improve storage space and make room for “a proper office”.
“It will also allow us to be more sophisticated when it comes to stock control and orders,” says Gill. Staff will get an improved rest area, too.
And those valuable cyclists haven’t been forgotten, either. “We’re building two customer toilets, ideal for the cyclists as the village currently doesn’t have any facilities and the volume of cyclists passing through means they are much needed,” explains Gaynor.
So, come 6 January, the wheels will begin turning in another phase for Peaslake Village stores, ensuring it meets the needs of its residents and those just passing through.
Finding local people to work in the store isn’t difficult, points out , but with the store being a fair distance from larger villages and towns, and public transport patchy, the area’s students find it hard to get part-time work. So Gill is keen on first
And under the team’s supervision the youngsters blossom, she says.