Chief Executive's Blog: Rural Shop Report Reminds Us About Convenience Stores’ Reach and Value

We’ve had a great response to our first Rural Shop Report, which takes data from our flagship Local Shop Report to paint a picture of the 19,128 rural convenience stores serving villages and surrounding areas.  It was about a year ago that we first took the idea of producing this report to the Rural Shops Alliance, and while sadly that organisation has now folded, we saw no reason not to share the story and the statistics about rural shops with a wider audience.  As well as lots of national and local media coverage, the report has been launched in parliament to a packed room of MPs interested to hear about the role rural shops play in their constituencies.

I could go through it page by page, and you can download the whole thing here, but there are a couple of things that stand out.  Firstly, the sheer reach of rural shops into every type of village community is astonishing.  It’s not just the number of sites that is remarkable; 59% of these trade on their own with no other services alongside them.  While some of these may trade near other stores in that village, many will be the only service available in that community.

Partly because they trade in those locations, rural shops have to incorporate a lot of products and services in the small space they have available.  85% sell alcohol, 24% include a Post Office, half offer a cash machine (most of which are free to use) and village shops tailor their service offer around their customers, almost acting as a concierge service for many local people.  It’s not surprising therefore that convenience stores are valued so highly by consumers, as our community barometer survey, which we also include in the report, tells us.

We shouldn’t forget the role of rural shops as employers, either.  We may think of the village shop as being staffed only by the owner and their family, but in reality a higher proportion of rural shops employ staff than is the case for the convenience store market as a whole.  Rural shops are drivers of local economies, through the 150,000 people they employ, and the route to market they provide for local suppliers and big brands alike.

The Village Shop in Hook Norton, Oxfordshire, is a classic example of an innovative, evolving rural shop, so it’s fitting that we chose this as the venue to launch the report with local MP Victoria Prentis. Joe Williams runs the store, which his parents Tom and Gloria opened more than two decades ago, and he has brought in a Post Office, developed local produce and a fantastic florist offer.  As well as being an example of many of the great things about rural shops, Joe has to cope with some of the challenges we highlight in our report: his business rates are just too high to qualify for the exemption for the smallest businesses, so the first few hundred pounds of profit each month goes to paying them, and the mobile coverage in the area is terrible, making doing business that bit harder.

Let’s focus on the value that rural shops bring, but let’s not forget what more can be done to help them to thrive in communities that really, really need them.

This entry was posted by Leah on Wed, 25/01/2017 - 14:21