Some 22% of UK post offices are planning to close, downsize or hand on their business over the coming year as many subpostoffice owners struggle to make ends meet, many going without holidays and having to take on extra jobs to put food on their table.
This saddening statistic came out of the findings of a survey undertaken by the National Federation of SubPostmasters (NFSP). There are now around 11,500 post offices in the UK, having almost halved in number over the last 30 years. While multiple chains such as WHSmith and Ryman do include post office counters within some of their stores, the vast majority of postmasters are self-employed small business owners, often operating a neighbourhood post office inside a shop.
Subpostmasters are paid by the Post Office for the individual transactions, but over three quarters (76%) of those surveyed said they earned less than the hourly national minimum wage per hour for the work they do.
Of those who participated in the survey 61% said they are earning less today than when they started.
One postmaster in particular is far from down-heartened as sales of greeting cards have not only become a mainstay of the business, but also encourage footfall. Nigel Hamilton-Evans, who owns and runs Boroughbridge Post Office (which includes The Well Good Card Shop) really believes that diversifying into greeting cards and offering a good selection could be the salvation for many struggling post offices.
“It is sad that a lot of Post Offices are teetering on the cliff edge at the moment. Unfortunately, we are not immune to the pressures all high street shops are under and a good retail offer is essential if we are to survive and prosper. Gone are the days that your retail side is an afterthought. But opportunities are there and money to be made,” Nigel told PG Buzz.
“Just because we are a Post Office it does not mean we cannot be a good card shop. In fact over the years we have gone from being a Post Office with a few cards to being a card shop and a Post Office then to a good card shop and PO to now being the best place in our town and now arguably the best for miles around for cards,” says Nigel proudly.
He feels that many postmasters think that they do not have the knowledge to get into cards, but highlights help is at hand – he is the post office network’s greeting card mentor, for starters. “Reading Progressive Greetings magazine is a good start. Then there is the NFSP. It has a dedicated retail team that can visit any member and offer really good advice and it’s free of charge.
The team is headed up by Troy Gardner (and they even have a video of me!)” elaborates Nigel.
Other advice he shares for any struggling postmaster keen to get into cards is “to visit successful specialist card shops and see how they do it and who their suppliers are and what are they charging.
Also, if you are not sure which card designs to order then get the card reps or agents in and ask them for their best sellers. Why would they sell you weak stock, it’s in their interest for you for it to sell through and reorder as soon as possible. However, where budget and space allow, try to get as many different suppliers with different styles as you can. Remember that your taste won’t be to everybody’s,” reminds Nigel.
His final rally call is “Set out to be the best you can! Become that destination card shop everybody wants to go to. It can be done and the crossover sales from increased footfall will benefit both sides of your retail.”
Here are a couple of videos starring Nigel that are hosted on YouTube: