Skilled staff, impeccable service and a strong product range have helped family retailer Jempson’s stand the test of time. Beth Phillips delves into the chain’s 75-year history

Entering Jempson's flagship store in Peasmarsh, East Sussex, is like stepping back in time.

One of the few remaining retailers to still cut bacon from sides, Jempson's also prepares all its bakery products from scratch every day. And at the back of the store staff dutifully wait to prepare and serve an array of fruit & veg and fresh food just as they did back when George Thomas Jempson opened the store in 1935.

But while Jempson's prides itself on its wealth of traditional attributes, there's nothing old-fashioned about its business model.

Now run by George Thomas Jempson's grandsons, Andrew and Stephen Jempson, the baker and general store has evolved over the years into a bustling 35,000 sq ft supermarket boasting a range to rival the mults' including garden and homewares. The store has also been joined by three Budgens stores and five cafés.

Things could have been very different. A fire decimated the flagship store in 1996, destroying about a third of the premises and prompting Stephen and Andrew to contemplate selling up. Fortunately, they didn't and Jempson's is this year celebrating its 75th anniversary in some style.

A range of festivities is under way, from a prize draw to win a car to 75p special offers and children's fun days. The car park of the Peasmarsh store has become home to a temporary retro store selling traditional products from its own-label GT Jempson range such as jams, preserves, cakes and popcorn, which was introduced last year.

"It's a real achievement for an independent food retailer to reach this milestone," says Stephen. "We've done it by being totally different. We are strong on our fresh offering and have retained skills that other retailers have lost along the way, such as baking, and preparing meat."

Another factor behind its success has been a canny approach to acquisitions. Jempson's is currently on the lookout for more sites in Sussex, but with the multiples' presence in convenience increasing, competition for available retail space is picking up.

Stephen acknowledges it won't be easy to continue growing the Jempson's estate. "We've looked at a number of sites in the area over the past few years but we kept being beaten to them by other retailers," he says. "That's why the Budgens acquisitions suited us, but we're not giving up."

In the meantime, Jempson's is listening to its customers and expanding its existing estate accordingly. It has planning permission to build a 12,000 sq ft home and garden shop at its Peasmarsh store in response to the "phenomenal success" of the limited plant range currently on sale. Plans are also in place to extend its Budgens store in Rye by 50% and its Budgens store in Hawkshurst by even more than that.

But although Jempson's has a firm eye on the future, Stephen is adamant it will never lose sight of its past. All the stores in the chain remain closed on Sundays and the development of the skills of Jempson's staff and the importance of impeccable service remain key priorities.

I'm sure old GT would approve.