Tony Hurren reports A village store at Hook Norton, near Banbury, Oxfordshire, where a series of proprietors stayed for only two or three years, has now been run by the same couple for more than a decade and, following a major refit, sales have risen steeply. Gloria and Tom Williams acquired the run down shop in December 1989. At the time, the store was taking only £2,000 a week. Gloria, 43, was a designer with a carpet company and Tom, 50, was a farmer. Neither had any previous retail experience. Their son Joe, 19, is now in the business. The shops in the village included a CTN, a butcher, baker, chemist and a post office. The post office, which sells a few groceries, is now the only other outlet. Gloria says: "Five years prior to us buying the business, the shop was thriving but, by the time we moved in, newspaper deliveries formed the base of the store's turnover. It also sold a range of hardware products, but there was little stock on the shelves and, without our intervention, it would have died." The first of the major alterations came two years ago when the couple decided a modern convenience image would boost turnover. However much of the building ­ both internal and external ­ has a preservation order and planning permission is required for even minor alterations. Tom says: "We had doubts whether the local people would accept the bolder image Mace had developed in preference to the reserved look of a 17th century building. We had even bigger doubts whether the council would accept the proposed changes. "Our wholesaler at the time, Booker Wholesale Foods, applied on our behalf for the changes to be made and, almost immediately, we were able to implement the blue Mace fascia, instore imagery and floodlights." The new look Mace store received a mixed reception from the villagers, but it found favour with younger shoppers and, in Hook Norton, they are in the ascendancy. Hook Norton is a thriving village with a population of 2,000 while six satellite villages add a further 3,000 potential shoppers. There is little unemployment and many of the residents are young professional people. They return home in the evening and expect the store to be open so, when the new fascia went up, the Williams increased their trading hours and opened on Sundays. Chipping Norton is five miles away but has no superstores, so it is to Banbury ­ eight miles from Hook Norton ­ that people travel if they wish to shop at Morrisons, Tesco or Sainsbury. Hook Norton has a lot of weekend and holiday cottages and the store gets a significant amount of passing trade. Between 4.30pm and 8pm the store is busiest. After switching to Mace's new blue fascia turnover increased and, by the middle of last year, the couple were talking to P&H about a major refit. The work started in early December. The wholesaler changed the store layout to encourage customers to browse and shop the entire store and the £30,000 investment included new shelving, a new serveover counter, new checkouts and a YP Electronics scanning system. A further £20,000 will be spent on a phase two development, which will include bringing the household section into the store's mainstream, creating an additional 500 sq ft of sales space. The future looks good for the Williams as P&H development executives forecast a further 20% turnover increase by the end of the year. {{FEATURES }}