CAT retail lives: Thame Autoparts

Ian Wagstaff dons his apron for a day behind the tills

Thame Autoparts' front signage

Thame Autoparts' front signage

“Some bastard has nicked my dust caps,” says a customer. “The kids take them for their push bikes,” states Joe Curran knowingly.

It is market day in the small Oxfordshire town of Thame. This used to be Autoparts’ busiest day, then it became the quietest. “There is no pattern any more,” says Martin Brenchley who has worked there for six years.

Autoparts Thame has just opened its doors and already the wisdom of stocking toys is bearing fruit. A lady is on the doorstep requiring new plates to replace a cherished number. She brings with her two small children. They are all over the toys, strategically sited near the entrance, and the lady is unable to leave without buying at least a novelty torch.

“You know when somebody wants a number plate; they have a sheaf of documents with them,” observes Martin.

The shop is well stocked

The shop is well stocked

Within 20 minutes of opening the shop is busy. Joe and Martin will be holding the fort all day as owner Tim Parsons is ill. The next visitor is taking advantage of Autoparts’ varied stock with a request that has nothing to do with cars. He needs a set of precision screwdrivers.

It is not long before the first delivery of new stock arrives, a mix of air fresheners, jump leads, GB stickers and warning triangles from local supplier Car Care Limited. There will be more deliveries throughout the morning including one of de-ionised water. The water here is hard and, even if the need to top up batteries is not what it once was, there is still plenty of ironing being done in Thame.

Included in the load is a stack of energy drinks for the small cabinet near the front of the shop. This one is branded ‘Pussy’. “We’re the only people who will take it,” quips Joe.

The jovial atmosphere is nothing unusual. In two days time, Thame Town Council will present the shop with its ‘Service with a Smile’ award. “Do you have a warning triangle,” asks a customer.

“I’m afraid I do,” replies Martin. “Well you might have one less in a minute.” It’s all a bit like that. Advice is also forthcoming. An inquiry about refurbishment of alloy wheels is met with a leaflet and a recommendation to contact the local ChipsAway.

But there's always room for more!

But there's always room for more!

Mid-morning sees the day’s only customer for Autoparts’ higher unit price diversification: firearms. He has to show evidence of being over 18 before he is allowed to leave with a Walther CP88 CO2-powered pistol. This is solely for target practice. “Not enough poke to damage an animal,” observes Joe.

So it continues throughout the morning with a veritable rush at about 11am. Another toy sale, in this case a sword, is made when a mother – around half of the customers seems to be women – buys a can of spray paint. A glance in the window makes you realise why, to some, Autoparts has become known as ‘the Nerf shop’.

A few days previously, Tim bought a half pallet of Wellingtons. Joe thinks this was a bad idea. Just before lunchtime, a family seeing the £7.99 boots in a bin outside, buys three pairs. By the end of the day seven pairs will have been sold; Joe admits he may have been wrong. With sales of car accessories falling, diversification is the way that Autoparts stays afloat.

The afternoon is quieter but there are still deliveries from FPS and Euro Car Parts. There are even traditional sales such as two diesel filters ordered for the next day.

Wellies sell just as good as wipers

Wellies sell just as good as wipers

Towards the end of the shift there is another flurry of activity including an elderly gentleman who buys two sets of a toy bow and arrows. Finally, there is a second request for valve caps. “My neighbour keeps telling me one is missing.” It’s been an average if eclectic day.

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