ONE OF Shetland’s most successful country shops has found new owners.
Ryan and Lesley Thomson, from Wadbister, are set to take over Tagon Stores in Voe next month once the paperwork has been finalised.
Current owners Scott and Phoebe Preston took over the roadside business just over three years ago, during which time they have doubled the turnover, taken on 13 staff and been voted one of the top 100 independent retailers in the UK.
Two months ago the couple decided they needed to move back to their native Lancaster to be closer to their elderly parents, and placed the shop on the market.
“We were expecting the shop to take a long time to sell. It took the last owners three years, but the right person was in the right place at the right time,” Scott Preston said.
“We couldn’t be happier, Ryan’s a local person who was born on Unst and wants to do things for the local community. They are really keen to make it an even better local shop than it is now.”
The Prestons hit the headlines early on after they arrived in January 2012 when they protested about the high cost of fuel on the islands by cutting it to mainland prices, even though it meant selling at a substantial loss.
They say the campaign succeeded in attracting attention, but it failed to spark the grassroots campaign they were hoping for.
“From a business point of view it couldn’t have been better at putting our name out there as new owners, but we wanted to get people campaigning,” Preston said.
“There is no reason why people should pay more than 4 or 5p more than Aberdeen, transporting fuel up here shouldn’t cost that much, but there isn’t enough of a grassroots campaign to change things.”
The challenge was not just taking on fuel wholesalers, “who are making millions of pounds a year”, he said.
“You’re also taking on the government’s VAT and fuel duty. Even the 5p rebate is flawed because there are no checks in there.
“As a shop owner you say I have bought 10,000 litres this month and the revenue sends you a cheque for 10,000 times 5p, but no one checks you are passing that on to the customer.”
During their three year stint the Prestons have re-fitted the shop, put in new flooring, a counter purpose-built on Bressay, and installed new fridges and a till system.
Now, having sold the business far faster than they expected, they are planning on spending the whole summer enjoying the islands, especially those places they have never had a chance to visit during the few weeks they have had off since they moved north.
Once that is over they have no idea what they will do. “Who knows, another adventure? We may just take six months off and go on a cruise.”
He says the feeling is “bittersweet” about leaving – they’re sad about going, but pleased they have found a new owner who shares their enthusiasm.
“Ryan works for Hughsons at the moment so he knows a lot of shopkeepers and understands the industry, so he should bring a new angle to the shop and I am especially pleased that all the staff will be transferring over.”
Phoebe will miss Shetland especially, her husband says, having fallen in love with the place and the people.
Scott, who has spent most of his time doing paperwork by the sounds of it, remains impassioned about the importance of local shops to small communities.
“The reason so many little shops are successful here they have something multiple shop owners can’t give you and that’s great service from people who they know.
“You will never be allowed to have a 10 minute chat at a supermarket check out about the SIC spending money on projects that never see the light of day or the history of Bannockburn.
“It’s a social hub. We have notice boards with lost and found, people selling things, business cards, funeral notices – if we lose these small community hubs where will all those services go? Where will people put charity boxes for Relay for Life?”