Penrith’s Davidsons Garage & KeyStore More has carried out its biggest refurbishment for 10 years as it has become the first KeyStore More forecourt in the north of England.

For manager Joe Stamper, the fourth generation of his family to run the Esso-branded forecourt and store, the last few months have been hectic. “Pre-lockdown we were refurbishing the store having taken the decision to invest last year,” he said. “We’d settled on a date for the open day then coronavirus came along.” 

Regular customers, however, have been keen to support their local neighbourhood store and word of mouth has helped spread the word that there is a new store on the block – as has the business’s Facebook page. “It’s been very much business as usual but with all the social distancing and hygiene confidence measures in place,” said Joe.

“We’re also getting a lot of people coming into the store for the first time and saying how surprised they are that we’re such a good, well-stocked store – that’s been great to see and getting all the positive comments and feedback from customers has given us all a boost.”

Sales have experienced a threefold uplift, although that can be partly attributed to more people shopping locally to avoid the supermarket queues during lockdown. Promotions, supported by leaflets, are also new to the store. However, it is clear the refurbishment and move to a professional trading format, including KeyStore-branded uniforms for staff, has led to significantly increased sales.

Joe explained the decision to adopt the KeyStore More branding was taken after careful consideration. “We were supplied by Palmer & Harvey and after they collapsed, we reassessed how we should go forward. We found that JW Filshill met our requirements and being a long-established family business like we are we felt they understood us – it’s been a natural progression working with them since then.

“I think what impresses us most is the fact that they won’t ever tell us how to run our business – we are always in full control and they are there to help when we ask them, rather like a safety blanket. Any problems or queries and either Jeanette Gordon, the sales and development manager for our area, or Graham Cairns, the regional development manager, are there to help.”

The Filshill team worked with Davidsons and the shopfitters to ensure that the design and layout of the new-look store provides the best possible shopping experience for customers. More space has been allocated to fresh and chilled with these categories now at the back of the store while alcohol has been moved and refreshed by the addition of a range of higher-quality wines.

Supporting local producers is also important to Davidsons. “We’re in the heart of Cumbria so we’ve brought in lines from English Lakes Ice Cream, Mr Vikki’s sauces, pickles and chutneys, Cartmel sticky puddings, Cranstons butcher meat, cooked meats, pies and its best-selling traditional Cumberland sausage, and handmade cakes from Traybakes to name just a few. As a family business we want to support other family businesses.”

Other new arrivals include a Tchibo coffee machine. “It’s a completely different ball game now,” Joe points out. “I’d say we’ve gone from being a garage with a shop to first and foremost a shop with a garage.

“We’ve always been proud of our business but now we feel we want to really shout about it. Sales are up, we’re able to sell the products people want and introduce them to new ones, and we know that investing has been the right thing to do – we’re confident that some of the customers we’ve got to know for the first time during lockdown will stay with us.”

Joe credits his “amazing staff” for going the extra mile during these most challenging of trading conditions. “We know that a shop is nothing without its customers but it’s also true that a shop is nothing without its staff – and when it comes to customer service our people are at the top of their game.”

Davidsons employs a team of 10 full and part-time staff, all local people. “They have that connection with customers because they live in the area – that’s something that’s really valuable when you’re a community retailer.”