Caroline O’Neil, who runs, pet and equestrian supplier Mannings of Alnwick on the Willowtree Industrial Estate, is concerned about the potential effects of the increasing number of chain stores that are aiming to set up shop in the town.
Former RAF Policewoman Caroline took over the well loved and well-established Mannings of Alnwick shop in late 2014 after 22 years in the Royal Air Force. Her career took her all over the world from Iraq, the Falkland Islands and Canada to RAF Boulmer.
She said: “When I left the RAF, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, other than I wanted to run my own business. I saw that Mannings of Alnwick was up for sale, and I realised this was an ideal business that I could run myself.”
However, support from local customers was so strong, the business quickly expanded and she had to take on apart-time member of staff within six months.
Mannings of Alnwick has been established for quarter of a century and has built up a strong reputation for customer service. Originally opened by Roger Manning as an agricultural merchant, the shop’s next owner diversified into pet supplies and Caroline has continued to grow this part of the business.
She said: “Mannings of Alnwick is a mainstay in the town. A big part of that is the personal touch – we know our customers, the names of their pets and we’re happy to carry your bags out to the car or order in specialist products or products that we do not normally stocked.
“It’s all about old-fashioned personal service, which only independent businesses that aren’t part of a faceless chain can supply.”
Caroline spoke out after a planning application was submitted by the national brand Pets At Home to open a large store opposite her business. A national agricultural merchant has also indicated it is interested in opening up in Alnwick.
She is now urging local traders and local people to come together to fight off the threat of national chain stores and multinationals. She is concerned they will change the face of the traditional market town, which is well known for its independent businesses and the variety of goods and services they can provide.
Caroline said: “Alnwick has a lot to offer and local people and visitors want to see different, independent shops, know the owner and have that personal relationship with them. People come for more than just pet supplies, they come for a friendly chat and maybe a little advice with someone else that lives in, knows and loves the town as much as they do. We need to pool our resources and stand firm together to keep the identity of Alnwick as a place where people go because of its unique shops.
“I’d like to ask and encourage our customers, who enjoy our shop and customer service, to write to the council and put their objections to these huge shops coming into the town. We need to protect our heritage and support our local businesses.
“I have the best job ever. I loved the RAF and missed it for so long – but now I’m flying high again thanks to Mannings of Alnwick and our loyal customers.