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Featured in the September 2011 issue

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The handsome building which is the home of ironmongers and hardware specialists Achurch and Sons is a Horncastle landmark at the top of Market Place.

Twenty-five years has passed quickly for Keith Gosling and David Spratt, partners of Achurch and Sons, the hardware and cookware store in the centre of Horncastle. Keith has now worked for some fifty years in the trade while David has an engineering and computer consultancy background.

For their first year in business they rented the old Achurch premises in the High Street but it quickly became clear that they needed to move to a larger and more appropriate location. “We were very lucky,” said Keith, “that there was a decent sized premise in the centre of town being converted to a Pentecostal Church – however, their plans changed and we came along and purchased the building.”

By 1987 the shop had moved to its present location on the Market Place, on the site of the old Butter Market near to the Post Office.
Proudly flying the Union Jack and the Lincolnshire flag, their large picture windows offer a tantalising snapshot of the extent of goods on offer inside, as do the products on display across the shop’s frontage.

“I have always believed that if you don’t have the stock you cannot sell it,” explained Keith, “so I have worked to make sure we have the brands and choice that people want and they do come from far and wide to buy from us.”

Covering two large floors, the shop is a testament to the art of merchandising display and the passion of independent retailing. “People comment that the shop is an Aladdin’s Cave,” he continued, “and I am proud that we receive so many complements that shoppers have enjoyed browsing around the store and we have been able to sell them exactly what they were looking for.

“Above all, we are a friendly team and we get to know our customers and they appreciate the service and quality of goods that we offer.

“It’s simply a case of treating people like friends rather than a mere customer.” This policy seems to be working, with people coming from all over the county: Lincoln, Grimsby, Scunthorpe, Boston and beyond – often influenced by word of mouth.

The range of stock is amazing but expertly organised and having now worked in hardware for so long Mr Gosling understands the importance of immaculate presentation.

The ground floor is devoted to more practical, everyday ranges including tools, gardening, paints, kitchenware and cookware. There are gardening tools and tubs as well as sundries such as weed killers, plant foods and compost. Customers pop in and out throughout the day buying everything from a bag of loose nails or screws to power and hand tools; from a wooden spoon to an electric mixer.

The second floor is stocked with more decorative and elaborate kitchen and dining ware, bathroom accessories and gardening tools. There are bathroom cabinets, towel and shower rails and mats. A handsome choice of mirrors lines the stairwell.

“My customers expect the latest ranges of the top makes of products so I am always on the lookout at shows for new innovative ranges,” said Keith. Le Creuset, Stella and Meyer are the shop’s bestselling cookware names. As well as the cast iron Le Creuset casseroles and dishes, Achurch and Sons stock their elegant ceramic oven to table ware, too, in the beautiful contemporary colours which are now available. Dartington Crystal is one of their latest additions to the shop’s merchandise.

Spotting and being ahead of retail trends has paid off over the past two decades. “People have become influenced by gardening and cookery programmes and they come to the shop wanting to find specific products or equipment so that they can try something at home.”

There are excellent ranges of bakeware by Prestige, Silverwood and Mermaid and this autumn there will be decorative novelty cake pans and shapes in heavy aluminium by Nordic Ware, as featured on a recent episode of Nigella Lawson’s cookery programme. There are kitchen gadgets galore as well as the more practical cleaning products, cloths, cutlery, place mats, oven gloves, Brabantia bins and plastic ware that can furbish the total kitchen.

The close-knit team at Achurch and Sons consists of Keith and Michael Edwards, who has been with the company for twenty-four years, and two part-time staff, June and Karen. They pass the time of day with their shoppers and have plenty of practical advice and experience to offer, on the DIY side of the business in particular. Famous names such as Black and Decker power tools, Stanley hand tools, Dulux paints and Cuprinol and Ronseal wood treatments are available as well as all the sundries which can solve a challenging DIY problem.

Whether you are looking for an item for your own home or a beautiful gift, the first floor displays are bound to fire your imagination. There is a great selection of salt and pepper grinders, household electrical goods by Kenwood and Russell Hobbs, plates, dishes and linens for fine dining, and beautiful oven to table ceramics by Emile Henry. La Cafetière offers a large range of styles and sizes for coffee making in contemporary designs and colourways.

“Horncastle’s antique shops attract a lot of people to the town and they come here to browse too, “explained Keith, “but equally we have a lot of customers who know what they want and just call in quickly to pick something up. I do have ladies who come considerable distances to find the right baking pan and they know that they will be buying something that will last.”

Keith admits that independent retailing is a challenging business to be in but he does not regret for one moment that he and David set out in their own business. “I was bought up in retailing and the traditional values of investing and working hard have always worked well for me. I take great pride in the service and courtesy that we offer our customers and they tell us they appreciate it too.

Keith summed by saying: “Our customers support us so well, which we greatly appreciate and we say a big ‘thank you’ to all of them.

“Many customers from far afield remark that they thought shops like ours has ceased to exist. We make a strong case for independent shops thriving in market towns and we face the future with confidence.”

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