Retailer in a Rural Region

Visits in Co. Donegal, Ireland in January 2011

McGee's Service Station

Our first shop visit was at the McGee’s Service Station in Falcarragh, Co. Donegal. It was established in 1959 by the current owner Seamus McGee’s father.  Seamus’ daughter, Meabh, is gradually taking over this successful family business. McGee’s Service Station is open 7 days a week from 7:30am to 9pm and employs, besides Seamus and Meabh , also 3 part-time employees. As it is located in a Gaeltacht district, both Irish and English are spoken in the store. McGee’s Service Station is a good example of a multifunctional business, besides the more common gas station services, fuel, car wash and tyre services,  the  convenience store comprises of groceries, newspapers, stationeries, confectioneries, specialty ice creams and car accessories. Additional services include bill pay/PayPoint, mobile phone top-up, laser cash back service, public service forms, free local newspapers, currency exchange, angling licences, tourist information and  ticket sales for local charitable organizations. They also receive and store deliveries for the local community and offer implement parts & accessories for farmers and new car & tractor batteries including battery charge service.  There are three other supermarkets in Falcarragh and another service station. After meeting Seamus and Meabh and visiting the store, it is evident that besides the wide range of services and products, their strength lies in providing excellent customer service.

Ballybofey Florist

The second shop visit was to Ballybofey Florist.  This business was established in 1996 and is operated by husband and wife team, John Griffin and Edel Neely. 
In addition to being a florist (they are an agent for Interflora) the store also carries a range of products including cards, occasional and seasonal gifts plus a selection of children’s toys.  Interflora provides product training and guidance on quality control.
They deal with up to 20 suppliers of which 10 are local seasonal suppliers.  Some suppliers are even in Holland with whom they deal directly. New products and ideas are sourced by attending trade shows which take place in Dublin and the UK.  

Peak season is Christmas and the summer months when most weddings take place. 
Being located in Ballybofey and only a few miles from N. Ireland means the business has felt the presence of the big supermarket retailers across the border who also stock flowers.  There is also competition from people who do floristry from their own home and therefore are not subject to costs associated with operating a shop premises.
Possibly the most interesting fact to emerge from the visit was that John and Edel feel that selling via a website on the internet is not going to diminish the need for customers to visit the store.  In their experience they believe that buying flowers for weddings in particular require that face to face contact and whilst the internet can be used as a brochure a visit to the store and a personal consultation is still the preferred option.  This fact was all the more interesting when it emerged that Edel has a background in IT!
Overall the key to the success of this business has been to offer a personalised service, a very important point for weddings and funerals.  In addition other factors are the provision of a door to door delivery service and an ever growing product offering.

Visit to the grocery store in Oyndafjør the Faroes in June 2010

Oyndafjør is a village on Østerø, in the Faroe Islands. The village is located only a half an hour drive from a fairly densely populated Runavík, however road conditions make Oyndafjør an isolated village. The road to Oyndafjør winds from the main road, up to the mountains, then way back like a snake down the valley where Oyndafjør lays with a view of the Atlantic. Oyndafjør has 140 inhabitants and most of them work in Runavik. Relative to the village size, the number of families with children is rather high.

The shopkeeper of the grocery store in Oyndafjør is 82-years old Eivind Petersen. Eivind has worked in the store for 68 years. His uncle took over the old store in the village after he got ill and was forced to stop fishing and find himself a new job. Eivind Petersen was then 14 years old and started helping out in the store. Later he and his wife took over the store. In 1980 Eivind decided to build a new store and it was a big improvement. The new store was big and spacious and there was room for a greater variety of goods and an opportunity to sell other items such as gift items and fishing gear. However, turnover has steadily and continuously gone downwards because people buy goods in the cities where they get a wider variety and better prices, says Eivind. It's hard to compete in these circumstances, especially when shipping and delivery is both costly and cumbersome.

In all the years Eivind has been a shopkeeper in Oyndafjør, it has only been him and his wife who have taken care of the store. Sometimes the children or grandchildren have been helpful, but almost every day in 68 years Eivind has been behind the counter. Eivind has been on vacation only five times in his life and even then only for a very short time.

Today, Eivind hopes that someone would take over the store. He and his wife are tired after years of work. Eivind is looking forward to his daughter taking over the store and she is not entirely unwilling to do so. His daughter lives in the village as well, however she requires that there must be room for vacations and other activities in life, and she says that she has no desire to end up like her parents. But she does see opportunities in the store. She believes that with a few adjustments and participation in the RRR project, she can see options in changing the store concept and have a more targeted range of products and expand the store with a café.

Quite a few tourists do come to Oyndafjør. It is especially "Rynkusteinarnir" which attracts turists. If the store can capture the attention of the tourists, revenue would grow and offer more possibilities so that a a family can make a living by it.

Eivind´s motto is: "If the store and school closes, the village dies." That is why it is so important for him to keep the store open. Until he finds a successor, he will, as long as he lives, get up every morning to sell his products over the counter.

-Olga Biskopstø-

Närbutikken i Venabygd, 8th Feb 2010

In the afternoon February 8th the RRR group visited Närbutikken Venabygd Handel on the beautiful Norwegian Mountains in Eastern Norway. The shopkeepers are Agnes and Dirk who had earlier had a shop in Belgium and who had moved to Venabygd in 2004 with their three children. At that time a project for finding new shopkeepers to Norwegian rural regions was running, and Agnes and Dirk found their new place with the help of this project. They had visited Norway in January 2004, moved to Norway in June 2004 and after two weeks they opened the shop. I challenge was the language but with help of a strong motivation they learned the language very fast.

Agnes and Dirk own the facilities, and the family also lives in the house. The shop is mainly run by Agnes and Dirk is mainly working elsewhere, but he helps in the shop when possible. The shop is very dependent on Agnes and her capability, strength and wellbeing. The turnover last year was about 2, 5 million Norwegian crowns. A surprise for them had been that in Belgium the turnover was smaller but they were two people working in the shop there. The main customers come from the village, but also tourists are an important group. The village is very small, only 200 – 250 permanent inhabitants but there are a lot of cabins on the mountains. Also foreign tourists (German, Swedish and Dutch) have found the place. The shop also has a sign telling that service is offered also in German and Dutch languages. There are two other shops nearby.

The shop used to be an ICA shop earlier but a couple of years ago the shop joined the Närbutikken chain. Mercur was helping the shopkeeper in this phase and Agnes considers the change of the chain has had only positive effects.

The main products in the shop are the normal groceries, fresh bread, café, fishing licences, small pharmacy, stamps, gas, and lottery. Lottery is very important by attracting customers to the shop.

Mercur had helped the shopkeepers in getting the lottery to the shop. Mercur had also helped in contacting the municipality, making plans, and in marketing. When moving from Belgium the shopkeepers didn’t know the system, the region, the decision makers or people, and nobody knew them. Mercur helped them with contacts and knowledge. Agnes found Mercur service very helpful and a similar system didn’t exist in Belgium.

Agnes has found the community support very important. The feeling had been good already from the first visit to the village. The village inhabitants are loyal to the local shop and this is essential for the existence of the shop.


The first stop on our second day of the trip was at the bookstore in the municipality of Alvdal, where Norwegian author Kjell Aukrust was born. The total population in the county is about 2 500, but in Alvdal there are about 900-1000 inhabitants. Current owner Irene bought the shop in 2004 and has been able to generate positive results every year, annual turnover in 2008 was 3, 7 million NOK. There are also a lot of cabins in the area, 60% of customers are tourists and passers-by and 40% local. Irene mentioned that a lot of the tourists and cabin owners don’t bring their own books with them anymore, but buy them at her shop.

Shop holds a big variety of goods; books, toys, board games, stationery as well as some jewelry, but shopkeepers are still able to keep the variety controlled. They don’t get everything their customers as for, mainly because the minimum orders from their suppliers are too big for the shop to be able to sell. Products are very nicely positioned, there is room to walk around and products are easy to find.

To get rid of the old stock, store holds a Mammut sale every February. It doesn’t really make a lot of money, but helps to rotate the stock and sell the “old” books. Also Irene mentioned that when the old stuff is gone, she can look at new things to do and try.

Store has two main distributors plus some small publishers call every now and then and offer their products to the store. Orders from the main distributors are handled online. Amazon and other online service providers don’t affect the sales of the store yet. Irene is taking advantage of the virtual world as well and has Twitter accounts, websites etc. to promote her store.

Shopkeeper mentioned downsizing as one of their success factors. Previous owners had employed 3-4 full-time employees, now besides Irene herself, who works full-time, her husband works part-time, without any pay though. Their daughter and another part-time worker work every other Saturday and during summer seasons at the shop as well.

Another success factor was the decision to close the print shop at the basement of the book store since it was not profitable. It tells a lot that the only interested buyer for the machinery was a local museum. : )

Third success factor must have been the Merkur project which the shop joined in two years ago. Main reason for joining the project was to see things from a new perspective and to get help making the right decisions at the right time. Irene mentioned that through the project she has been able to meet and share information with her colleagues as well, which has given her more confidence in her own work. The relationship between shopkeepers and their consultant Jon Hidle seems to be very informal and active, since they felt that they can call Jon whenever they need help or advice.

As a fourth success factor I would mention cooperation with other entrepreneurs in the area for example in advertising to cabin owners. Local school also purchases their books from the shop, although the margin for those books is rather small. Local books are offered on commission at the store.

Kopparledens Landhandel, Tufsingdalen, 9th Feb 2010

The shop owner is Heidi, who originally comes from Oslo. She took over in 2005 with no experience from retailing but has learned a lot during the 5 years, much because of the help of the Merkur project. In the village there are about 130 permanent inhabitants but during the peak seasons, summer and Easter, the number of customers increases substantially. There are about 200 cabins in the region and the location of the shop is good because of Kopparleden, the road between Falun, Sweden and Norway. The road is popular especially among the motor cyclists, and the shop with its parking place is a (mobile) stop station.

The shop is open 6 days a week. The annual turnover of the shop is about 4,5 mNOK. The business form is a limited company and the business and the building are owned by Heidi. The building was recently renovated with help of voluntary work. Heidi has six part-time assistants. In addition to the shop there is an information station, a post depå and a petrol station (not owned by Heidi). The nearest shop is about 40 km from Tufsingdalen.

Kopparledens Landhandel is a part of the Närbutikken chain, Heidi is the owner and manager of the business. On everything that goes through the cash machine i.e. turnover, she has to pay 0,87% to the Norges gruppen, which runs the Närbutikken chain.She buys some products also from other suppliers.

As the place is a rest stop for travelers, other services have and will be developed: canoeing, fish pond and a small camping area, fishing licenses, lottery, toilets and a bigger parking. The governmental road department has a man who looks after of the parking place regularly. Now Heidi is starting to build a small hut (open with roof, benches and a grill) where the travelers can cook.

The Merkur project assists the shop keeper with consultation and marketing but also financially with 5000 – 6000 € annually. This money has been used for investments such as the layouts of the store, the electrical supply, a new coffee machine and an information station.

Heidi told that she cannot compete on price on range but she can compete on people coming back. She is involved in many projects aiming at developing the village. Another project aims at developing the services in the area to avoid the travelers to continue to the next village. Part of the project will be to acknowledge the people about place where they can stop. With help of a GPS the motor cyclists can designate the place as a special stopping place. They have here petrol, toilets, water and the travelers also can stay overnight. Also they can cook their own food.

In Norway the opening time regulations are quite strict but in the touristic areas it will be possible to keep open also on Sundays. That is also what Heidi wants to try because Sundays seem to be more important days than what she earlier thought. There is potential to do more business.

So this is a multifunctional shop, concludes mr. Helge Shei, the manager of the Merkur-programme. It has a pharmacy, an info station, a small coffee shop with coffee machine, chairs and a table, lottery, information from the municipalities, and other services described above.

RRR project group visited UIG Community Shop 24th June 2009, on second day of our 2nd international meeting in Stornoway, Scotland.

The shop is owned by the community. Anyone can buy shares of this shop. Prices are kept as low as possible; profit making is not a target but making the products and services available for villagers.

In addition to regular groceries, the shop has a variety of other products and services, like dietary products, souvenirs, gas pump, post office, meeting room with video conferencing facilities, laundry, book shelf where people can change books, drink dispenser etc.

There are only 3 product deliveries in week. One important factor which helped in getting to the low figure is a compact cold storage room. Even vegetables remain fresh when you don’t need to put them all immediately in shelves in your shop.
Customers can sit and relax with a good book and hot drink and fill in the lottery. If they just passed by on their tour around Island of Lewis, checking the local art pieces and souvenirs, mailing some post cards to friends and buying food and drinks from the shop may interest them.