Phoenix Community Stores Ltd
Nurturing body, mind and soul
In the Phoenix office I talk with current director David Hammond, who replaced Collin Chamberlain in 2014. I always thought the shop started as a Foundation department, but Jonathan Caddy told me its history is older: “It was a little SPAR shop for the Caravan Park before the Findhorn Foundation bought the site in the 70s. Slowly it expanded the assortment, including natural health food, and the Apothecary moved in from the ‘old toilet block’”. Under David Hoyle’s and Jan Boultbee’s management it expanded enormously and in 2001 Ekopia stakeholders funded a ‘community buyout’ from the Foundation. The Foundation still owns the shop and café premises.
The Right Livelihood purposes states: ‘The Phoenix to be a role model for business in the new economy’. How do you combine this with not paying your staff a living wage? David says that 13 of the 24 staff are on minimum wage, but get paid more with taking on more responsibility. “I’d love to pay everyone more, but we don’t have enough customers. The largest part of our operation is food, which is not a big profit making area. If we weren’t in a rural area, it would be easier. A welcome centre would attract more visitors and, I think, make the whole place more sustainable. We want a sustainable business and sustainability for our staff. We have increased the staff discount now to 15%. Our highest paid job, the manager, gets paid less than twice the minimum wage, which is low compared to other businesses.”
Some say the Phoenix is too expensive. Almost every village has lost its community shop for this reason. David, what is your take on this? “This is a difficult one. We simply do not have the buying power nor the range of supermarkets. We can’t compete. But we offer plenty. Because we are remote, we have higher delivery costs. We sell organic, fair-trade products, which tend to be more expensive. The advantage of being small though is that we can be more flexible than supermarkets. For example, British farmers are now growing quinoa and we have it on our shelves now, saving many international food miles.
What do you need from community members to survive? “We need local people to shop here. Only 38% of our customers come from The Park, and that’s fine, some work here and live elsewhere; 80% come from the triangle between here, Forres and Elgin. We do see The Phoenix as more than a community shop and cafe or we would not survive.
Another purpose is ‘Mutual Benefit and Participation’ and ‘Local Service’. The Phoenix sells community arts and crafts, but some sellers have pulled out since the shop raised its commission to 48%. David agrees that 48% is a lot for a small craft business. “It costs a lot to retail, and 20% VAT goes to the government, not us. As a craftsperson I wouldn’t only look to sell in the shop, but also other sales routes.” Under Collin Chamberlain a new section ‘Made in Findhorn’ was created, giving local craft a visible place, attractive to tourists. Do you intend to continue to support local art & craft in this way? David explains that sales have gone up since Anne took over the Craft & Art section. Anne: “We’ll keep local craft and art, we just cannot display it all in that corner. We have reduced the range, as we had to stop stocking crafts that did not sell. We try to juggle as a local operation.”
About the café, David says: “The Blue Angel was refurbished. Like other parts of the community it received fewer guests last year. Although in a beautiful location, visitors don’t find it easily. Over winter it is not sustainable — we keep it open, but it made a loss last year.”
Legal status: Limited Company. Business, operating the Phoenix shop and Blue Angel Café
Ownership: PCS Ltd is owned by over 200 mainly local people through Ekopia (80%), NFD (10%) and private investors (10%)
Directors: David Hammond (managing director), Paul Randell, Lisa Mead, David Mead, John Lowe, Mark Anderson, Collin Chamberlain
Co-workers: Phoenix: Linda Hall, Anne Jenkins, Sarah Farrington, Harry Donnellan, Anneke Klop, Kim Welch, Donna Hunter, Kaisa Oikkonen, Roddy Mckenzie, Calum Wallace, Jutta Schmidt, Zac Shohet, Ilona Kastner, Elie Jourdin, Chloe Watson. Blue Angel: Amber Worth, Danyelle Ross, Catherine Bellvue, Donald Marquis, Emma Malone, Gemma Walker, Michiel Turner, Marc Luxon
Contact address: David Hammond, Phoenix Shop, The Park, Findhorn IV36 3TZ; t: 01309 690110;
e: , w: www.phoenixshop.co.uk , on Facebook
Vision: To offer goods and services for nourishment and connection.
Goal / mission: To support local, fairtrade and environmentally conscious products and services, working with the Soil Association, Fairtrade Foundation and the principles of social economy. Four primary purposes: right livelihood, sustainable trade, local service and mutual benefit and participation with the local community.
Recent activities: Transforming the company from loss-making to a sustainable profitability.
Current and future activities: Refurbishing the Blue Angel, improving menu and service; continuing re-evaluation of all existing and potential new products in the shop; business plan and funding applications for a Welcome Centre. Income: Retail sales & Catering.
Interview/ photo collage: Adriana Sjan Bijman, May 2015, with thanks to David Hammond & team.
Blue Angel Staff in front of Blue Angel Café (part of the Phoenix Ltd)
from left to right: Blue Angel: Marc Luxon , Amber Worth, Danyelle Ross, Michiel Turner, Donald Marquis, Emma Malone,
not on photo: Gemma Walker.