Motcombe Community Shop sails on

Date:

A long-time supporter (and judge) of Dorset’s village shops, North Dorset CPRE chairman Rupert Hardy visits Motcombe’s thriving community store

Kay Francis, left, has managed the Motcombe village shop for 14 years

COVID was kind to village shops, which had been under pressure for decades from the relentless onslaught of supermarkets. Government advice to stay home, as well as the fear of infection, drove shoppers to avoid supermarkets.
However, much has changed in the last few years. Shoppers are facing a vicious cost of living crisis. Price wars have been intensifying, and we all know which supermarkets are winning: the big discounters like Aldi and Lidl.
There is still a clear long-term trend towards online shopping that benefits supermarkets but not village shops. Other factors have been the decline in physical newspaper and tobacco sales – historically, both major drivers of customers for small shops.
But what can they do? The bigger ones are in a much stronger position – they can offer a broader range of stock, and can also diversify (if space allows) by opening cafes, which bring extra footfall and generate higher margins. They can sell more local, sustainable produce, which we applaud. We strongly support high quality local food and drink producers, of which Dorset has many.
Small shops can still benefit from the post-coved legacy of more people working from home one or two days a week.
More shops are joining symbol groups such as SPAR with their greater buying power and marketing support. Overall, there are some shops that seem to be doing all the right things.

Motcombe Community Shop
How does a village shop survive if it is only five minutes drive from the supermarkets of Shaftesbury? The answer is it has to try much harder to make itself stand out.
It helps that there is a strong village community, and that no less than 35 of the residents are happy to volunteer to support the shop. It also helps to have an experienced manager. Kay Francis, who has been running the shop for 14 years – ever since the community took it over – clearly knows everyone in the village, and also what they want. Community shops may be under less financial pressure than privately-run ones, but to survive they still have to be professionally run, and know how to move with the times.
Motcombe’s major innovation in recent years was to cover over what had been a less-than-pretty exterior space with a light and airy gazebo, transforming it into a busy cafe with the tables and chairs for which they have no room inside.
The cafe certainly helps footfall in the store. Coffee sales multiplied three-fold as soon as it was opened during COVID. The shop sells more local food now. They have introduced loyalty cards, which seem to work well, and, thanks to the skills of one committee member, have enhanced their presence on social media.
Energy costs have been a serious issue for many, but Motcombe avoided the worst, thanks to prescient long-term contracts. There is a comprehensive product range with gifts and cards as well as food and drink – fresh pastries are a popular line. The shop offers a dry-cleaning service, as well as a small post office. Its services and friendly staff are well-appreciated, and it is seen to help the community in different ways, such as their weekly free delivery service to old people in sheltered accommodation.
I awarded Motcombe second prize in the Best Dorset Village Shop competition in 2015, when I was a judge, and would happily commend them for another prize now. Do visit them!

Congratulations to Child Okeford Village Shop – highlighted last year in the BV Magazine. We were pleased to hear that this wonderful shop is a finalist in the Countryside Alliance Best Village Retailer of the Year, South West. Results will be announced in April.

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