A Nation of Shopkeepers: Support local in Yorkshire | Living North

A Nation of Shopkeepers: Kemps General Store

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Olivia Brabbs Photography
As Christmas approaches, we speak to Liz at Kemps General Store and find out why the recent expansion of a book store may have been the perfect move for 2020

If this year has proved anything, it’s that it’s more important than ever to shop local and support our independent stores.

Kemps General Store was founded in 2017 by Liz Kemp. Their Whitby outpost was opened in September last year and they moved, expanded and added a bookstore to their Malton shop this October. This year has been a big challenge for Kemps, and as a nonessential business, both of their shops closed in March meaning they lost several months of trade. But, productivity kicked in for Liz. ‘Lockdown made us really take stock of our businesses, our cash, our customer base and sales channels,’ she says.

At the start of March, Kemps had no online offering, which they had resisted in favour of authentic real-time shopping. But the changing world meant they decided to go digital, adding more than 500 products to browse. ‘We worked to meet our customers’ lockdown needs via the new online shop, local delivery, webcam personal shopping and accepting orders via email and social media,’ Liz explains. ‘It has continued to be an important channel for us, but we treat it as a personal service, as with our real time shopping, and we currently fulfil all the orders from the Malton shop.’ After finding that reading was a hobby people relied on to pass the time in lockdown, they changed their book supplier in March so they were able to order from a bigger choice of titles and arrange home delivery direct. While their Malton shop is well-established, their Whitby outpost was new, so losing the first spring/summer trading season was disappointing.

‘But we reopened again in July and the business has been ticking away there, and visitors and residents are becoming more aware of our presence,’ Liz adds. The expansion of their bookshop in Malton is one great success that’s come out of lockdown, but it wasn’t without risk. ‘With Christmas being 40 percent of our annual trade, failure to deliver good sales at that time could have meant failure of the business,’ Liz continues. ‘With social distancing and a smaller shop floor, due to the layout, there was a significant risk, which we weighed as equal to the expansion risks.’

Liz has noticed, especially in Malton, that customers recognise the value of local independent shops andbusinesses now more than ever. ‘On the whole, we are more agile and able to meet local needs, and can adapt to offer a more personal service when times dictate,’ she says. ‘Keeping jobs and money in the local economy, and offering an environment whichappears safer and less daunting to shoppers and visitors than cities and impersonal shopping malls, is now more important. It’s impossible for us to compete with large online retailers, but as long as we offer a safe, interesting, stimulating and enjoyable experience to all our customers, both online and real time, then we believe we will meet a need, build loyalty and be successful.’ Liz comes from a family of shopkeepers and she’s proud of that. ‘There is no shame in being a shopkeeper, and good independent ones reign supreme at the moment – long may it continue.’

Kemps have chosen stock perfect for gifting, without being too Christmassy so that they’ll still be handy post-festivities too. However, Liz noticed preparations for the big day starting as early as October. ‘People are already choosing items such as books and jigsaws which have a greater value in terms of usage,’ she says. ‘We expected the gift spend to drop with a pending recession and redundancies, but so far this hasn’t happened. People appear to be continuing to spend, but making more considered choices.’

Kemps General Store & Kemps Books

Market Place, Malton

kempsgeneralstore.co.uk

Kemps on the Coast

Grape Lane, Whitby

kempsonthecoast.co.uk

QUICK QUESTIONS

What other independents should we check out near you?

Rickshaw Bazaar (fair trade heaven) and The Cosy Cottage Soap Company are just two of the many fab indie retailers in Malton, and The Whitby Bookshop and Whitby Deli are our must-visit neighbours at the Coast.

Yorkshire puddings with Christmas dinner – yes or no?

Yes, but we are veggie so no meat. We still have homemade bread sauce, apple sauce and veggie stuffing, plus Wensleydale cheese with my Christmas cake, of course.

What’s your favourite Christmas carol or Christmas film?

Elf, It’s a Wonderful Life and Silent Night.

Best place in Yorkshire for a Boxing Day walk?

I should say Whitby, but we love Filey for a good long walk, and Runswick Bay too.

Published in: December 2020

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