The Name: Walthamstow Village Stores
The Place: London, E17 – where else?
The Story: Long before Walthamstow had a ‘village’ James Brundle and his brother Chris (now the chef in the business) used to walk past an unloved and rundown off licence on the Orford Road.
Ah, a common tale of neglect and urban retail decay: Until in 2008 Brundle and another sibling Siobhan O’Donnell decided to buy it and turn it around. And boy, have they turned it around. Fast forward a mere three years to 2011 and guess who wins the accolade of Best Convenience Store in the country at a very swanky affair in London?
Never: Oh yes. Walthamstow Village Stores. But there’s more. Fast forward to 2013 and they’re in the final 10 for the International Convenience Retailer of the Year Award 2013.
They’ve gone global! Correct, up against Migrolino in Switzerland, and petrol station shops in Argentina and Poland amongst others.
Spill the secret of their success: First of all I give you – bacon jam.
Yeeesss that is going to need clarification: Okay, the shop is not just a shop. It is also a restaurant because the enterprising Brundle et al also bought the premises next door and converted it. The story goes that chef brother Chris made a topping for his very popular burgers consisting of bacon and onion merged together. Customers started asking if they could buy the mixture to take home.
Aha. I see a cross over retail opportunity arising: A job lot of 200 jars was made up in the kitchen and put next door in the shop.
Right, and from there I’m guessing a slow word of mouth led to a brand developing over time: Actually it sold out in three days. Then it received a bit of celebrity endorsement and they knew they were onto something big. The key Brundle explains is that with a shop of this size ‘we are small enough to take risks and oversee it’. Anyway, a bulk manufacturer was quickly found and now the range is greatly expanded, get your taste buds round chorizo jam, chilli bacon jam and a whole long shelf of assorted Eat17 ‘jams’.
Hang about, what’s Eat17? Oh yes, Eat17 is the name of the restaurant next door and the name of the brand under which Brundle sells the jams and any other self-made products. Although of course the main shop is a Spar.
Stop! It’s all too much: No, it’s all quite simple. The convenience store runs under the Spar fascia – not incidentally the same Spar fascia you know and love – but a stylish grey one that marks it out as different. And next door is a restaurant and brand which Brundle and various assorted siblings also own and which supplies goods for the shop and feeds lots and lots of hungry East Londoners.
So you can buy toilet paper in the shop can you? Obviously, it’s a Spar. As Brundle makes clear the partnership with Spar works brilliantly because they felt they could keep their own independence and as long as you continue to order the basics from them then any niche products are your own affair. ‘We can say we’re reasonably priced because Spar do all of that and we can focus on sourcing interesting products.’
A marriage made in heaven then: 1,000 customers get served every day in the Walthamstow Village Stores and a fair few of them are going to pick up, say, a tin of baked beans and a jar of onion jam so the mix of core/niche seems to be working nicely, thanks for asking.
That’s a lot of customers: They’re turning over £50,000 a week now but the store underwent a massive enlargement and refurbishment in 2009 so it can cope. The new one will be even bigger.
Ah, my very next question. What next for East17? It’s Eat17. East17 was a boy-band in the 1990s. Anyway, the immediate focus is on developing that brand. The jam range has just gone into Waitrose (it was already in Tesco) meaning that a little bit of chorizo jam on bread can be yours in over 1,000 outlets now. And then there’s the cinema of course.
And where’s that? Well, it’s a whole new postcode change. In to E9 (that’s Hackney to you). The converted picture house will consist of a big shop downstairs – still a Spar of course – and a 50-cover pizzeria upstairs. Open for service before Christmas, according to Brundle, and expect it to be heaving from day one.
Can we expect a chain of Eat17 restaurants attached to Spar shops? Brundle is emphatically a fan of organic growth, so the next few years are about establishing the Eat17 brand, developing the jams into an even bigger product and finishing the new outlet. All with no outside investment either, thank you very much.
So, what exactly is this family-business doing that is so successful? Basically they are very good at preserving their point of difference. They source local/unusual foods and goods. They bake all their own bread in the restaurant/patisserie next door and sell it in the shop. It’s a destination store for the luxury handmade stuff and then the customer finds they can buy their top up shop too. And so they do. The store presentation has a ‘wow’ factor that your average franchise just cannot aspire to and is born of the fact that the four directors just sit down round a table and think of new ideas all the time. Brundle does not believe in customer profiling or anything of that sort and maintains that if you just ‘do something amazing people will come’.
And which people are coming? Well, I don’t know because there is no customer profiling but I can tell you that 85% of them are regular and lots are locals.
Does he have any advice on retailing: ‘Be different and don’t get caught up on price margins.’
OK, got it: I’m thinking ‘Sprout jam – bringing the taste of Christmas all year round’. Is anyone from Londis reading this?
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