'Barriers were broken down and teams began working as a unit like never before’

How Humanness Saved A Local Business From Closure

When Tesco announced that it planned to open a new supermarket next door to Thornton’s Budgens in Belsize Park, London, the local community planned a campaign to prevent the opening within 24 hours. Such was the strength of the relationship between the local supermarket and its community, they did everything within their power to stop Tesco moving in next door. The retail giant would have almost certainly put Thornton’s Budgens out of business and following several months of campaigning the announcement was made that Tesco would not open. Thornton’s Budgens had been saved by its local community.

In an interview with Andrew Thornton, owner of Thornton Budgens he explains the values that are at the heart of his business, values that undoubtedly saved the business from closure.


In his foreword for the book Conscious Capitalism, Bill George says ‘Well-run, values-centred businesses can contribute to humankind in more tangible ways than any other organisation in society’. This is a view that Andrew shares and is apparent in the numerous ways that Thornton’s Budgens connects with and supports its local community.

Local fundraising is evident as soon as you walk through the door but it is so much more than having a collection box next to the till when you leave. Thornton’s Budgens send all of its out of date food to the nearest centre point location to help the homeless in London. Staff put on a cakes and curries event to support Great Ormond Street who a fellow staff member owed his life to and local school children got involved with a farm that was on the roof of the supermarket’s previous location. Andrew has taken as many opportunities as possible to support local food suppliers but I was pleasantly surprised to also see the regular products you would expect in a supermarket. This is a business after all and they have to meet their customer’s needs and be competitive on product and price.


Caring for the environment is the second of the three values that Andrew puts at the heart of his business. Thornton’s Budgens stopped giving away free carrier bags before any of the major chains followed suit. They also committed what many considered to be retail suicide by putting doors on their fridges, a move that contributed to 50% reduction in energy usage. It has been long considered that doors on fridges reduces sales but Andrew has proven that this is not the case and in addition to saving energy, has hosted many retail chains in order to prove that it’s been his energy bills that have dropped, not his sales.


When it comes to the staff at Thornton’s Budgens, Andrew takes a human approach. The entire organisation recently undertook a series of workshops that were designed to help everyone reach their full potential. Every staff member had a 121 with a senior manager and then there were departmental workshops to help bring humanness into the business. The workshops started with a meditation that helps set the tone for what is to come. Staff were asked to think about what they are grateful for, what pains them and what their desires were for themselves, their company and the environment. This human approach nurtured trust between staff. Barriers were broken down and teams began working as a unit like never before. There was greater patience with each other and a confidence arose in their ability to solve tensions and perform to greater levels.

The skills and talents within each team were identified and used to develop new strategies for the company. There was a buzz, an energy within the supermarket and it wasn’t just the staff who felt the positive effects. Customers commented on the change of atmosphere within the shop and mystery shopper scores rose from a 65% average to a consistent 100%.

So what does it take to live by these values and create a business that contributes positively to its community, its environment and the lives of its people?

Human Leadership

Andrew’s spent 4 years on the Mars graduate programme before becoming a director in a retail consultancy. The focus on short-term wins and the lack of concern for the consequences along the way lead to Andrew’s energy levels diminishing for the industry. Andrew spoke of his own intuition and gut feel that there was a better way to be in business. Following a personal crisis in his life, Andrew realised that it was time to listen to his gut instinct. He bought Thornton’s Budgens and set about running the business in a way that he felt was true for him.

Andrew speaks passionately about what it takes to run a ‘human’ business. Courage and consciousness were the primary traits that he referred to. Courage to run your business in line with values that are true to you and consciousness to know that profit is not the only measure of business success.

When I spoke to Andrew about profit, his views were very clear. Human businesses are more profitable in the long term than businesses that prioritise short-term wins. Andrew quoted the research of Arabesque Partners who found that businesses that care for their community, the environment and their people achieve greater financial success in the long term.

Andrew is obviously dedicated to running a sustainable, human business and the evidence within Thornton’s Budgens suggests that humanness at work is a successful model. Running a business this way requires a dedicated leader who has the confidence to broaden the vision of the business beyond profit alone. The returns on investing in your business in this way are inspired staff, active engagement in caring for the environment and customer loyalty that will give your business longevity over your competitors. If you’re in North London, pop in to Thornton’s Budgens. I have no doubt that you will experience a business that you would also want to campaign to save.