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Secret Shopper Report: Ludlow

Plenty of locally-sourced produce

Since 2012, our Secret Shoppers have sought out the best (or worst) of GB’s natural health and lifestyle independents. This time our spy has travelled to Ludlow to ask for help with arthritis and a child’s hay fever.

Store location: Ludlow
Issue enquired about: Arthritis in hands and son's hay fever

First impressions

The shop appeared to be of a very traditional design, quite narrow, with a free-standing chalkboard outside offering fresh goods, cheese, paté etc. Attractive simple window display with hanging glass shelf, uncluttered and inviting. Sign-written window in traditional script saying Wholefoods/Delicatessen. At first glance, much more emphasis on food as opposed to remedies. Overall it definitely drew me in.

Flat entrance into shop then lovely appearance, with traditional wooden shop fittings. Although narrow, the shop goes back a long way, although there are steps to the rear section. Lots of bulk goods in paper sacks, sweety jars and other containers added to the very traditional atmosphere. Lots of old fashioned weighing scales and other attractive items on display on top of the shelving also added to the overall impression.

Verdict: 8/10

Store layout

The shop is very well stocked. Space is obviously at a premium but I thought there was a sensible and comprehensive choice in most areas. Some lovely gift ideas. No obvious promotions but enough information to find your way around. A home delivery service was on offer, but given the nature of the shop, I'm not convinced of the benefits. It's fine for cornflakes/soap powder etc but I think this is a shop you definitely need to visit. In such a narrow shop it is almost inevitably going to feel cramped but I thought the shop had optimised its space without cramming too much in. I thought they could perhaps have done away with the free-standing display of soaps just inside the front door. It would have made the front part of the shop much more spacious and navigable.

The layout was reasonably clear. Remedies etc. were visible as soon as you enter the shop so that immediately redresses the previous impression of a food shop. In a small shop it is easy to see quite quickly where everything is and the chilled counter in the rear part of the shop was in clear view on entering.

The balance was fine. There was no fruit/veg but then in a largish town like Ludlow and with the space restriction I thought that was a sensible decision. Very good bulk Ecover station at rear. Long chilled cabinet with a good selection of dairy, inc. local cheeses. Interesting alcohol section with some locally-sourced fruit spirits. In fact altogether I felt there was a good emphasis on locally-sourced produce in many areas.

I did feel drawn in and although the counter was small, it was right in the middle of the shop so very easy to spot.

Overall the shop is very attractive, largely due I think to the traditional feel, wooden shop fittings and bulk goods. It was clean and peaceful and it made me want to linger. However, I was there fairly early in the day and the shop wasn't busy – I imagine it could feel slightly overwhelming when very busy. The hand-wash basin by the checkout counter was a bit tatty and I was slightly puzzled by an advert for 'property services' over the checkout – seemed a little incongruous.

Verdict: 8/10

Personal attention

An immediate and friendly offer of help was made, but I was then left to wander with no pressure. However I got a very quick response when I did ask for help.

Smart and clean branded long aprons marked the staff out clearly, but another male in the shop who appeared to be involved (possibly the owner?) was rather scruffily dressed. He didn't seem to be officially on duty but even so, it didn't make a particularly good impression.

I told the staff member that I wanted a natural alternative to my arthritis drugs and suggested I'd heard of Capsaicin as being effective. She hadn't heard of it, but offered Devil's Claw. I then asked about my son's hay fever and she thought they had had a nasal spray but it was out of stock. She later, unprompted, brought me a product manual for Devil's Claw which was very helpful.

Although I trusted the attendant I didn't think she was particularly knowledgeable about the remedies. I also asked earlier in the visit for pomegranate molasses which I'd spotted on their website, and she led me straight to it, so was obviously knowledgeable about the shop stock in general, but I felt she was weaker about the remedies.

Having read more about Devil's Claw in the manual, I was convinced enough to buy it. I didn’t feel convinced enough to try any hay fever remedy.

Verdict: 6/10

Check out

Very efficient and friendly service, not at all pushy. I hadn't noticed, nor was offered a basket of any kind, but was invited to leave my purchases on the counter while I continued shopping.

Verdict: 6/10

Overall impression

The store wasn't particularly busy but had a steady stream of single customers. There were enough staff and they were friendly and helpful. Overall I thought it was a delightful shop, a cornucopia of unusual goods displayed in a delightfully traditional way, from paper sacks of bulk dry goods to sweet jars full of crystallised fruits, nuts, seeds etc and I would recommend it to friends and family without hesitation.

Verdict: 8/10

Total marks: 36/50

Read the previous Secret Shopper report here...

Read about the winning store in the 2014 Secret Shopper Awards here...