An empty c-store was too much temptation for entrepreneurs Angie Stevenson and Sharon Butler. Aidan Fortune follows their first steps in the retail industry

When Angie Stevenson and Sharon Butler saw that their local convenience store in Newquay was lying empty, they decided it was an opportunity too good to be missed. The store had been closed for nine months and was left idle, waiting for someone to come in and make it a success once more. Cue Sharon and Angie.

Angie owns the hair and beauty salon next door to the shop on Linden Avenue, and when she saw the store closed for so long she thought it would make an excellent business opportunity for her and Sharon. The two have known each other for nine years and although both have extensive business experience, they have never worked together or branched into retail before.

The girls discovered that despite the previous owner’s ad-hoc approach to management, which included irregular opening hours, there was a demand for a convenience store in the area. In fact, while they were renovating the store and preparing for the grand opening, they were inundated with queries about when they were opening. And on the night of the opening eight weeks ago, there were more than 40 people queuing outside the door. 

So far their first retail venture has been a success, averaging £9,000 in sales a week. But Angie is quick to add: “Once word gets out about the store being open, we hope that we’ll do even better. In the run-up to opening, we distributed leaflets and that really got people’s attention.”

Angie and Sharon are also looking to expand the 430sq ft store. “I’ve considered moving the salon to the upper floor of the building and extending the c-store into there as well,” says Angie. If this plan goes ahead, it would double the size of the convenience store.

“People have asked us if we can expand the store so that they can move around with a small trolley,” adds Sharon.

The girls did well to get the store open on time as their turnaround time was quite short. They bought the shop at the beginning of June and then spent three weeks refitting. They are very appreciative of their wholesaler Bestway’s help and recommend it highly. They are also full of praise for the shopfitters who were able to get the store ready for stock so quickly.

And it sounds like they had their work cut out. “The store was in a terrible state when the girls first took it over,” says Ron Wootton, Best-one business development executive for the Cornwall area. “The interior had to be completely renovated and all the fixtures replaced.” 

The store is the first Best-one in Cornwall and the girls are delighted with the support that they have been given from their symbol group. “Whatever we’ve wanted, Bestway has delivered. Ron has been amazing. He’s taken calls from us 24/7 and phones us everyday to make sure we’re doing okay,” says Sharon. 

So far it has been mostly smooth sailing for the girls, with the only setback being re-applying for an alcohol licence. “The previous owner of the store decided to cancel the licence and when we opened we had to re-apply. This takes 28 days to come through and until it does we can operate only on a temporary licence, which means we can sell alcohol only on a four days on and one day off basis, which has affected our business.”

The duo are keen to offer as many services as they can for their customers and have installed PayPoint and hot food to go, while the Lottery will be coming soon. They have also opted for an epos system with two tills and a back office system which allows them to order stock and check weekly, daily and hourly takings. 

There are seven members of staff altogether and the girls are there most of the day, while running their other businesses, too. They have both been working long hours but aren’t resentful – they believe it’s important to build up a relationship with their customers.

“You can’t start a business without putting in the hours,” says Angie. “We’ve doubled the opening hours of the previous owners. They didn’t open at all on Saturdays and Sundays and at other times they just closed whenever they felt like it! We know you can’t just stand behind the counter and take money. We’ve also had to assess staff skill levels and we want them to be able to maintain the high standard that we expect of ourselves.”

According to the girls, this high standard is essential if they are to continue in the retail business, especially considering how important the store is to local residents.

“The shop is something of a focal point within the town and it was sorely missed by residents when it closed,” says Sharon. “The support they’ve shown us is unbelievable. We’ve had flowers, cards and even our first Christmas present from a customer.”

Sharon goes on: “The outlet has been a convenience store for the past 60 years and some customers who were affected by the closure and who don’t know it’s re-opened haven’t yet come back. As word of mouth spreads, they’ll come by soon enough.”

To help cultivate a strong customer relationship they are introducing free local deliveries in the coming months, especially to help out their elderly customers.

The store is ideally placed in a residential area so it gets plenty of local trade. They have signposted the store at one end of the road to attract passing traffic and plan to do the same at the other end. They also benefit from a school nearby. 

Fact file
Store: Best-one, 2 Linden Avenue, Newquay store Size: 430sq ft number of employees: Seven part-time Services: PayPoint, home deliveries, hot food to go, off-licence

Achievements: Nominated for a Best-one store award
There’s no doubt that the store’s key location and a savvy pricing policy have enabled them to get the business off to an excellent start. Says Angie: “We’ve been charging to suit the area. At one end of the road there are expensive houses, while at the other there are council houses. We’ve had to set our prices to suit both ends of the market and it’s worked well so far.

Sharon and Angie will be getting involved in the community further as they are Best-one ambassadors for Cornwall so will be helping with charity drives for Barnardo’s and Great Ormond Street Hospital. 

They also hope to get involved with local charities over the coming months.

Although the girls have already been nominated for a Best-one award in the stores category, they don’t intend to rest on their laurels. They are constantly looking to better their first store.

One area that they feel they need to improve on is their fresh fruit and vegetable offering. The store is currently packed to capacity with stock, but the girls still feel that they could squeeze in more. They’ve been struggling to find a supplier that suits their needs, but they haven’t given up the search. “We’ve gone to the local farms and bought from them, but we need a regular supplier. We want to be able to provide our customers with everything they may need,” says Sharon.

Even at this early stage, the girls are looking to shake things up and are ordering different stock in every week. “We’re keeping the core stock the same but we try to introduce new products as much as possible, such as ready meals or hot foods,” says Angie. “It’s part of our drive to be a modern convenience store and offer the best level of products to our customers.”

“Moving into retail was a big step for us,” adds Angie. “We had both been in business before but not together and not in this area. It’s worked well so far and we hope the business will grow.”