Walking into Hawkins, it’s hard not to be struck by the timelessness of the shop. A steady stream of customers are gently milling about the treasure trove of items for sale, ranging from DIY and hardware materials to kitchen utensils and everything in between. Long-serving knowledgeable staff are on hand to help customers who have been shopping here for decades. This is no way a negative thing: in an age of out-of-town complexes and impersonal online shopping, Hawkins has retained a real focus on their loyal customer base ensuring it remains at the heart of the local community.
Christine Stone is the shop’s owner, having taken over from her father around a decade ago. A friendly, open woman, Christine admits that when she first started at Hawkins she had grand plans of expansion before quickly realising that she would be better served “maintaining the current character of the place”. Technological advances have been limited to the installation of electronic tills and while fixtures and fittings have been updated, continuity has been the real priority.
Christine’s desire to maintain the same services customers have used for generations really shines through. She explains how her elderly customers would “struggle to access other stores in Cribbs Causeway and central Bristol” and it is clear that providing a local service for these people motivates her infinitely more than profit margins.
This is a shop clearly thriving within its local niche, maintaining its individuality from the mainstream market.
Though the shop has survived for more than 100 years, in reality things have not always been easy for Hawkins. The opening of Cribbs Causeway in 1998, in particular a huge new B&Q, caused plenty of independent businesses on Thornbury High Street to struggle and many to close. Parking in Thornbury is also notoriously difficult, meaning Hawkins relies upon the footfall of passing customers.
Despite this, an idea from a business consultant to change the layout of the shop to ensure people walk past a greater range of items was given short shift from Christine: “Customers would have seen through something so blatant.”
The rejection of modern retail strategies serves to enhance Hawkins. The whole ethos is about providing excellent, personalised customer service to people and word-of-mouth promotion is preferred over internet campaigns. Customers here can purchase individual screws for a few pence and requested items can be ordered and available within days.
The personal touch is increasingly lost within shops these days and it is these little effects that have ensured Hawkins has continued to thrive. And with extensive housing development in the Thornbury area, there should be plenty of new customers to attract.
Hawkins of Thornbury
49 High Street, Thornbury, Bristolm BS35 2AR