My Extraordinary Year by Tom Larkin

Somehow it has just gone one year since I became a shopkeeper at Tywardreath Village Shop. I honestly don’t know where that time has gone, but I do know that it has been a truly remarkable year. In so many ways.

In May of last year I was dealt a massive blow. Without going into too much detail, I was forced to move on from something that I’d put everything into for several years. It was a horrible shock and also extremely scary. I had no savings to fall back on, rent and bills to pay, and my wedding just 3 months away!

Luckily for me, the initial shock and terror did not last long. For almost 3 years before then, I’d been fortunate enough to have Trudy and Josh as friends. I first met them through their work coaching local businesses. I was setting up my last venture and they were a huge help with their free and unconditional mentoring and support. They quickly became close friends, and to know I could go and talk to them about my situation made that strange time so much easier to deal with.

I also knew that they were in the process of raising money to save the village shop, and I’d actually told them several times that running the shop would be my ideal job! However, because I was so committed to what I was doing at the time, I hadn’t ever seriously considered making that a reality. After meeting with Trudy and Josh, it quickly became apparent that my sudden change of circumstances wasn’t such a bad thing after all. In fact, in a weird kind of way, everything seemed to have fallen into place. I could actually fulfill my long-held, semi-secret ambition to run the village shop!

In the space of one day I had gone from being absolutely terrified about the future – what was I going to do? How would I pay my bills? – to knowing exactly what I wanted to do, and not having any doubts that I would be able to do it. I count myself extremely lucky. Without Trudy and Josh there is no way I would have been able to even think about taking over the shop. Someone in my position would not have been able to borrow the money needed, especially when I had no experience of running a shop!

Trudy and Josh gave me not only the belief that I would be able to do a great job, despite the lack of experience, but also a way of realising my ambition of running a shop without having to raise the money myself, and without me having to take on any financial risk. Most people just don’t get opportunities like this, and I was so grateful to be able to look forward to the coming months and years with such hope and excitement.

I spent the next few months working with Josh and Trudy in raising the funds to buy the shop and preparing to take over. We overcame some real challenges along the way, but we got there in the end! We finally completed the purchase on 23rd September, and the following day I opened the doors as the first new shopkeeper in Tywardreath for more than half a century!

None of us had any experience of running a shop, but we did not let that faze us. Instead of focusing on all the things that could go wrong, we focused on what we knew we could do right. Any of you who used the shop during those opening days, weeks and months will know how hard we worked. We pulled together as a team and worked day and night to make sure we gave the village the shop that it deserved and needed. Once again, there’s no way I could have got through this time without the support of Trudy and Josh. We hadn’t yet built the fantastic team that we have now, and so they were not just behind the scenes giving me the support I needed to get the business up and running, but working in the shop with me every waking hour, building the place that it is now, that we are so incredibly proud of.

It quickly became obvious that we were onto something special. The love and support we received from the community was truly inspiring, and with every day and week that passed the shop looked better, had more stock, and the sales figures continued to increase at a rate that exceeded even our most optimistic predictions. On top of that, the shop became a hub for the most extraordinary goings-on – far beyond just being a place to come and buy things, the shop became the epicenter of the village and a magnet for fun! I can’t even begin to list examples, but anyone who follows us on social media or uses the shop regularly will know what I’m talking about.

One year on, we’ve tripled the shop’s turnover, we’ve massively increased the number of products on sale and services offered, we’ve delivered to more than 30 different local people in our little van, many of whom order several times a week as they are unable to visit the shop themselves. We now employ more than 10 people, and most of the team are also either suppliers to the shop, pledgers, or both! We’ve been so successful that we have reached absolute capacity, and so expanding into next door is virtually essential. To emphasise this point, whereas upstairs used to be a family home, we now have 5 rooms full of stock and a second till just for home deliveries! We also have suppliers, business leaders, and trade magazines saying they have never seen anything like it. We are always being asked how we’ve done it and what our secret is. Not bad considering that when we opened on 24th September 2016 not one of us had ever run a shop before! Maybe that’s the secret… not bowing to fear and instead just getting on with it.

I’ve personally had the most extraordinary year and a bit. Since May 2016, when I was forced into a sudden career change, I’ve got married, taken over a shop with no previous managerial experience, nearly tripled the businesses turnover, and even become a dad. It has been mad and brilliant. But I could not have done it without the incredible, unwavering support of Trudy and Josh, and also the wonderful people that I work alongside and the people who make running this shop the best job in the world – the customers.

I wake up at 5am every Monday morning and look forward to the week ahead. I look forward to many more weeks, months and years of running the best village shop in the world, in the best village in the world. Just look at what we’ve done in our first year… to think where we could be in another year’s time is very, very exciting!

 

 

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