L-R Karen Coombes and Regional Development Business Manager Jo French.

The national competition celebrating the power of passionate local service delivered by the UK’s retail teams has announced its June winner: The Original Factory Shop’s West Street store in Haslemere. 

The Proud of My Store judges were bowled over by Store Manager Karen Coombes’ story of pride, passion and trust in her team, rooted in her core belief that stores thrive by placing themselves firmly at the heart of their communities.

Karen joined the Haslemere branch just two years ago. Since then, her focus on training, developing and motivating her small team has seen the store go from strength to strength, even during the height of the pandemic when she had to isolate at home.

Karen’s passion for the great British High Street shone through in her entry, as she described the hyper-local partnerships she’s forged with other retailers. For example, customers waiting to have balloons blown up for an event can simply pop to the coffee shop next door, say ‘balloons’ and receive 10% off their order.

Despite being one of the smallest Original Factory Shop stores, Karen was also thrilled to tell us that an approach to charity partnerships piloted and developed in her store has now been adopted nationwide. That means The Original Factory Shop now have developed hundreds of local charity partnerships targeting the areas around their stores.

“I’ve always believed we’re the smallest shop with the biggest heart,” said Karen. “Winning the Proud of My Store award this month really puts the icing on the cake! My team has worked so hard and we’re so excited to be recognised.

The heart of retail is people – not just the customers you serve, but the people who work in your store.  I’m proud to work for a brand that’s allowed me to invest so much time and effort into my team. If they thrive, my store thrives, and we can then help our community thrive in turn. Everyone wins!

As a manager, I strive to motivate my team by example – if I’m positive and upbeat, my team will be too, and so will the way we treat our customers. That ripple effect is incredibly powerful. It’s the same when it comes to our charity partners – what is a small gesture to us can have a huge effect in our community. As retailers, I believe we have a duty to give back. It’s always humbling to see how far a little bit of kindness can go.”

Oliver Peck, The Original Factory Shop’s Brand and Customer Director, said, “We’re a national business made up of over 180 local businesses, so to see Karen and her team at our Haselmere branch awarded this month’s Proud of My Store prize is a great recognition of how well they are serving the local community. This branch has a commitment to serving the community shines through in everything they do, whether it’s a local food bank drive, inviting local makers in to stores or having tea and biscuits with customers.

As Karen says they are the smallest TOFS store, but they have the biggest heart and this includes donating the prizes to the local foodbank and to their charity partner, The Community Kit Bag. Our fingers are crossed for the final!”

Proud of My Store was founded in 2021 to recognise the invaluable role local store staff play in retail, and to shine a spotlight on the service and value they bring to communities. The Proud of My Store 2022 online hub opened in the spring and nearly 300 entries flooded in from supermarkets, boutiques, pharmacies, high street names and small community shops, all keen to share their stories and tell us why they are proud of their store.

Organised by customer interaction management specialists Critizr, three monthly winners have been selected, who all scooped luxury hampers to share with the team and a donation to the store’s favourite charity. With the competition now closed, one overall team is set to be crowned ‘Proudest Store 2022’ at a special event in September.

Critizr Co-founder and CEO Nicolas Hammer added his congratulations to Karen and her team. He said: “This entry is a shining example of the importance of local stores to their community. Not only is Karen building a wonderful environment for her customers and team, her cross-business collaboration is helping build a thriving high street for all. That’s not to mention her fantastic approach to charity partnerships, which has now been adopted nationwide by The Original Factory Store. Small acts really do add up to huge changes and this store demonstrates the power of local to do good. Congratulations to Karen, her team and the whole of The Original Factory Store team.”

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