Winner of the Good Retail Awards’ Instore Creativity Award, Williams of Audlem, is a family-run business that has used its heritage to create a one-of-a-kind instore experience. Modern Retail had the pleasure of speaking with Judy Evans, Owner of Williams of Audlem, about their inspirational approach to retail.
Meet Williams of Audlem
Family business, Williams of Audlem Ltd, has restored their 161-year-old village shop to reflect its heritage and history in a unique, authentic and sustainable way. They have undergone a project to create a unique and authentic trading space that attracts customers in a climate where nostalgia is growing in popularity. Judy spoke about her earliest memories.
“My first memory is when I grew up with my parents having taken the shop over from my Grandma. I remember my Grandma working in the shop and I used to help her when I was very small. She showed me how to wrap parcels with brown paper and string. It really has gone full circle, as we’ve gone back to reusing what we can for packaging.”
Offering something different to others
To counteract the decline of small shops, Williams of Audlem has created a one-of-a-kind shopping experience.
“You have to bring your own ideas and experiences. It’s helped having experience from my own career before this, knowing about window dressing techniques and colour coordination.
“What you learn over the years is that you must evolve. This shop started as a drapers selling fabrics, then went into printing, thenready-made clothes and it’s all about adaptation. In the 70s and 80s my parents found that they couldn’t buy clothes, even in bulk, as cheaply as supermarkets were selling them. Now people want something different. You have to come up with new ideas and can’t just do the same thing for 161 years.
“The vision when I was coming back was that things needed to change again in the shop and we realised there were more tourists in the area for walking and canal holidays, so more leisure, so it’s all about tapping into this.”
Finding inspiration for a one-of-a-kind experience
When it comes to inspiration for Williams of Audlem’s unique design, Judy was certainly not short of inspiration, being able to tap into the shop’s past.
“First, I’ve always likes antiques and where my parents had modernised in the 70s, it needed doing again. It was a question of which way to go. The obvious thing was that we had all this heritage and I wanted to do something different, so we’ve embraced it to make it a retail experience. Before the energy crisis, we decided we needed to improve our efficiency, so we replaced lighting with LEDs that have a victorian style, so we kept it all in the same theme.
“There’s been a ready market and an interest in nostalgia which is what we’ve made the most of, creating a one-of-a-kind experience for everybody that comes in store.”
Making use of existing items
Many of the items used in the shopfitting have been reused or repurposed fixtures, keeping in line with the theme.
“I didn’t know how to get a 100-year-old cash register mended and saw the BBC Repair Shop show when it first began, so wrote in and to my surprise, it for accepted. We went down to near Chichester and the great thing is that they mended it and brought it to Audlem to film.
“When the programme went out, a man called who said they used to be a cash register repairer and he lived 4 miles away. He managed to tell me a lot more about the till. He said they started importing them into Britain in around 1890 and this one is from around 1891. My great-grandfather bought it second hand. Just being on that programme, which was by chance, has attracted all sorts of visitors, some as far as New Zealand.“
As well as making use of the existing fixtures and fittings, Judy has got creative with new ways to showcase the shop’s heritage. One example of this is the bespoke hand painted wall mural they commissioned in 2022 for the shop’s 160th year in business.
“I was walking down the canal and there was a narrowboat painted beautifully, so it caught my eye. It was of an old Stoke On Trent, pot-bank scene. I’d been thinking how to mark that 160 year milestone, so did some detective work, and found the artist that was a chap who lived in Devon and he agreed to come and do it. He took different elements of our history and made a medley of different aspects of the shop and its various activities through time; so it has a Victorian street theme, along with my mother and father in the 1950’s with the shop’s car, and their dog on the bonnet. It naturally features the now famous old till, along with seamstresses in the background, a printing press and an 1862 penny.”
The highlights of creating a stand-out instore experience
Williams of Audlem has gone above and beyond to play a key part in the community. Judy explained that they are always looking to positively impact the lives of those they meet.
“There are highlights every single day, with people coming in and chatting, as well as being part of the community. We get very involved with raising money for community appeals, we sell tickets for community events and currently have a petition on the counter about road improvements. We’ve even become a bit of an unofficial lost property department because we’re open 7 days a week.
“Our customers are absolutely amazing. It’s a real community and the family has been part of this area for generations. That’s how you differentiat yourself – it’s not just a transactional relationship – it’s an immersive relationship in the community. You can help people. We always get a customer on Christmas day that needs battery for a toy, or they’ve spilt the milk and we’re there to help.
“Tonight I have a meeting with other traders and we’re grouping together to pool our resources and knowledge. We’re lucky to have such a variety of shops for such a small village. It means we can give recommendations and we’re always looking to support and promote each other, because the best way to improve is to grow together.”
Winning at The Good Retail Awards
Judy shared her experience of winning at The Good Retail Awards.
“It’s been fantastic – I never thought an old shop could win a modern retail award. It goes to show however long you’ve been going in retail, you’re never too old to learn new things.
“They’ve said about the award on the village website and I’ve had it on the counter all day – everyone’s been asking about it! It’s great because I’ve been putting as much effort as possible into the shop and having that recognition is great.
“It’s an award for the village as well as me, encouraging people to use the shops in this area. Having award-winning shops means people want to stay and come here. We want to be an award-winning village, so helps to up our game.”
Catherine Erdly, Founder and Retail Strategy Consultant of the Resilient Retail Club, commented on Wiliams of Audlem’s approach: “I love how the refurbishment harks back to the origins of the store. It is particularly impressive how they have been able to use the original till!”
Holly brings a wealth of experience in both print and digital publishing. As Modern Retail’s Content Editor, Holly is passionate about helping independent retailers to thrive in today’s ever-changing market.