Eric Snowdon and his wife Min may only be a few years from retirement - but they’re not frightened of taking on a fresh challenge when it comes to their business. Earlier this year, after 17 years running the Whitehouse Services forecourt in Devon, they decided the time had come to give their site a major facelift. The couple opted for a total knock-down and rebuild of the store, which meant operating the shop side of their business from a Portakabin for nearly three months.
But both agree that the disruption and inconvenience was well worth it, and the whole process has helped to create a busy and modern shop that they are very proud of. The new-look store has already surpassed all their expectations, and easily doubled its weekly sales to £40,000, which is well ahead of their original target.
== A cut above ==
Previously a Premier shop, the smart new 1,800sq ft store in Okehampton has been turned into a Budgens.
Cliff Brookes, who has been manager at the thriving site on the A30 for 20 years, says: "We’ve already enjoyed our best weekend of sales ever - and with a good summer trade we expect turnover to climb even higher.
"We spent time looking at all the other groups and at lots of different sites, but we thought that Budgens was simply a cut above the rest. The support package they offer has been second to none. The turnover is phenomenal and I put it down to the fact that it’s Budgens."
The newly-developed store now includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as fresh meat selections and local goods such as clotted cream. There is also a brand new bakery. Hot food and tea and coffee have been added along with two metres of chillers for food and four metres of chilled wines and beers. The fresh and chilled elements of the store have proved a particular success and now account for around 40% of total shop sales.
The BP forecourt is situated on the main artery going into Devon and Cornwall, and therefore enjoys a lot of tourist trade during the summer months, while off-season it has a fantastic local following.
== Home-cooked food ==
In addition, the site boasts a 120-seater restaurant, which remains unchanged since the refit. The restaurant boasts "wholesome, traditional home-cooked food" - and it is so popular with the locals that people regularly book well in advance to get a table to tuck into one of the hearty Sunday roasts.
Cliff describes the decision to go ahead with the revamp as "a bold move" on Eric and Min’s part, but he says the success is all down to team work and great loyalty among the staff.
He adds: "It’s a well-known fact in our industry that a lot of sites have a very high staff turnover, but we don’t. I’m proud to say that this is still very much a family-run business."
And despite his two decades as manager, Cliff is far from the longest serving member of staff at Whitehouse Services - he reveals that one of his colleagues has worked there for an impressive 28 years.
Eric and Min, who are both in their sixties, are reluctant to sell their site when they finally decide to retire, and hope to keep the Whitehouse site in the family. Hence they are currently passing on their years of experience and training to their daughter Shelley, who recently joined the business.
It looks likely that the Snowdons will continue to be a well-loved feature in this part of the West Country for many years to come.