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  • Annette Holman

The important social role convenience stores play in their communities


“We don’t have any loyalty cards, but the customers are loyal to us”.  This was a lasting quote I took away from the recent Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) Conference by Sue Nithyanandan, shop owner at Costcutter in Epsom. 

Sue shared how she was dealing with recent challenges in legislation around High in Fat, Sugar and Salt (HFSS) that convenience shop owners are facing. She has partnered up with a local organisation ‘Grow, Cook Enjoy’ to support healthy eating for her local school which is supporting children to learn how to cook for them and their families. 

At Neighbourly Lab, we are fascinated by the multifunctional role convenience stores have in their communities. This is merely one example of many we have heard of convenience store owners going out of their way to support their local communities

Convenience stores and their community

This unique relationship was further echoed at the conference by marketing agency VCCP, who had recently commissioned the Cadbury Dairy Milk Advert celebrating its 200 year anniversary. They focused the story on a shopkeeper and connection with a young girl wanting to buy her mum something for her birthday. Crucially for me, the connection and community spirit captured by the role of a small store throughout the storyline and their key importance is relevant today as it was decades ago.

Connection is important to other organisations too, we heard from Shirine Khoury- Haq, the CEO of the Co-op who historically have supported communities. She stated, “Our first priority has been our membership and our member-owners and as a consumer cooperative, we are owned by and we are run by our members.” This captured the essence of what it means to be part of something  “Membership means to be part of a group, a feeling of belonging”. 

For Sue, she doesn’t have an ‘official membership’ but is creating a feeling of belonging for her store and the community. By supporting kids to cook healthier they are in turn coming to her store to buy further produce for their culinary endeavours. She has built up a loyal customer base and her business is growing. It's a win-win situation for both business and community.

So what other initiatives can involve shopkeepers like Sue, or member led organisations like the Co-op to support further social connection in our communities? That is what we are exploring and testing with thanks to funding from the National Lottery Community Fund.

What have we learnt to date?

Over the last 9 months we have been researching and engaging with a range of stakeholders from convenience stores, voluntary and community organisations, local councils and public health teams, thinking of what could work to utilise this unique positioning of local stores in the community. 

The ACS Community Barometer report highlighted some key insights of convenience stores offering opportunities to build on: 

  • The average customer visits the store 2.7 times a week.

  • 57% of customers visit their local store on foot showing how embedded they are in the community space.

  • 36% of customers know the people running their store ‘quite well’ or ‘very well’.

  • 79% of stores are doing some form of ‘community activity’.

We have engaged with many stores in our research and found some fascinating examples of how they are amplifying their unique position as a small business in the community; such as sponsoring local football teams, having a Citizens Advice bus visit the store and offering work experience to local school kids. You can read more about some of these amazing stores in my previous blog around the ACS Heart of the Community Event.

We have witnessed shopkeepers going out of their way to support their customers' health and wellbeing through offering a listening ear. We consistently heard from shopkeepers that many of their customers’ only social interaction of the week was when buying their groceries. 


The idea we want to test...

We want to build on the regularity and trust in customers' visits to convenience stores and in turn help shopkeepers respond and signpost to their customers' needs with a structured public health messaging initiative in the following way:

  • Sourcing the relevant ‘what’s on’ local information from Public Health and local VCFSEs collated into a flyer.

  • Flyers are distributed in and by local convenience stores to their regular customers in their community as a new communication channel. 

  • The information spreads into the community, enabling social opportunities to be more visible for local people, especially for those not yet engaged in community activity and/or may be isolated. This engagement helps to support their health and wellbeing.

How to get involved

Please get in touch with annette@neighbourlylab.com to find out more about our trials and receive updates about the work.

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