Clive Mortimer’s Mace store and his Cork and Fork deli next door work in perfect harmony to please customers. Sarah Britton reports

Some people dream of running a quaint village store, filled with local delights and specialist items. Others are fascinated by the mechanics of retail - balancing footfall-driving deals with high-margin money-spinners. Clive Mortimer, owner of Yatton News convenience store and the neighbouring Cork and Fork deli and off-licence, has the pleasure of doing both.

“I’d always liked the concept of running my own business and I thought that convenience retail was an exciting way to go about it,” says Clive. So back in the 80s he bought an empty retail unit, which had previously been owned by a multiple, and set up shop in North Somerset.

Working from early in the morning until late at night, he managed to make ends meet, but the opening of a Threshers 15 years ago gave the business a real boost. “People knew that if they went to Sainsbury’s for a couple of items then they’d lose half-an-hour queuing and parking, whereas they could just nip in to us quickly on their way home from work for food and then grab a drink from Threshers,” says Clive.

Store profile

Yatton News, Mace, Yatton, Somerset

Opening hours: Monday-Sunday 6am-8.30pm

Staff: six part-time

Size: 900sq ft

Additional services: lottery, PayPoint, DVD rental, hot drinks to go, HND, veg box delivery scheme

Store profile

Cork and Fork, Yatton, Somerset

Opening hours: Monday-Thursday 10am-10pm, Friday-Sunday 9am-10pm

Staff: five part-time, one full-time

Size: 800sq ft

Services: hampers, gift wrapping, ale dispensing

But when the Threshers chain went under in November 2009, his business took a serious knock, with sales down 15%. Clive knew he had to take action - not only to recover sales, but also to prevent a multiple opening up on his doorstep. So he decided to buy the site himself.

Next came the decision about what to do with the building. “Obviously, we didn’t want it to deflect from the convenience business, so we knew we needed a store with a twist. I had always dreamed of having a farm shop, so we chose to open a deli and off-licence, called Cork and Fork, which is run by my wife Angela and her brother Maurice Summers.”

The deli certainly looks the part, with A-frame chalkboards outside promoting new cheeses, and wooden boxes inside brimming with fresh veg. “Vegetables are delivered to the store on the same day they are picked from the ground,” says Maurice. “The crates they are displayed in are actually French wine boxes that Threshers had left in a shed.”

Eye-catching display

The off-licence section is brought to life with clever displays. A large wooden barrel sourced from an American wine importer acts as an eye-catching wine stand, while a pub beer tap is nailed to the counter next to ale barrels. “Using props adds a bit of interest for customers,” says Maurice.

Despite the store’s specialist offerings, value for money is still very much a focus. “We have all the local ciders and ales on draught. The lads watching rugby or cricket at the weekend can come here to fill up their own containers. It works out at £1.99 for a pint of Bath Ales Gem, rather than £3.49 in a pub.”

Elsewhere in the store, products are equally as affordable. “The chutneys we stock cost just £1.45,” says Maurice. “They make a 25% margin and sell every day.”

Freshly filled baguettes are another value offering. “Everyone from Bob the builder to passing reps comes in for our subs,” says Maurice. “We sell half a sub for £1.99, or a full sub and coffee for £2.99.”

Selling products made in store enables the deli business to make healthy margins. “Initially, we bought in local pies,” explains Clive. “But the supplier dropped out, so we thought we’d make our own. We sell the same amount at the same price point as the other pies, but the margins are higher - between 40 and 50% - and the customers love that they’re made here. We also make up gift hampers, which are particularly popular around Christmas and Easter.”

Products that aren’t made in store are sourced as locally as possible, says Maurice. “We shop within a 25-mile radius for meat, veg, cherries, strawberries, cheese, even granola.”

A glance at the deli counter reveals a smorgasbord of delicious cheeses. There’s Draycott blue, Somerset brie, and Lye Cross Farm Cheddar, which is made locally. The meat selection is just as impressive, both in variety and sustainability. Pork Farms in Cleeve, just five miles away, supplies sausages, while organic beef and lamb comes from 10 miles away courtesy of Michael Amos of Lower Failand Organic Farm. Rob Hodder of Congresbury, which is just a couple of miles down the road, supplies faggots and gammon.

New sources

Maurice explains that he and Angela are regular visitors to food fayres and farmers’ markets, which is where they source many of their suppliers. “If Bristol has a food fayre, Angela and I will go to see what’s on, and we’ll find products through word of mouth.”

He seeks inspiration from other retailers, too. “I go everywhere, especially in Clifton, checking out the local delis and seeing what they do. You have to be careful because if you go too specialised and too expensive, then it won’t sell.”

Unlike most stores, Cork and Fork doesn’t have a stockroom, which means it can’t afford to have any slow movers. “The biggest challenge is fitting all the items into the store,” says Maurice. “We see some lovely products, but we don’t have the room for them. We don’t carry stock for the deli side for Cork and Fork - it all goes on the shelves.”

With all that Cork and Fork has to offer, there aren’t too many c-store retailers who would fancy their chances of running a shop next door, but Clive has fine-tuned his store to ensure that it maintains its unique selling point.

For starters, he joined Mace to ensure that the shop was every bit as sparkling fresh as its neighbour. The support and retailing nouse of a symbol has given both the store, and its owner, a new lease of life. “When you’re a symbol member your voice is heard,” says Clive. “We ended up joining Mace because I felt that we were trading more as a c-store than a CTN. I realised that stocking branded products in pricemarked packs and trying to get good margins on other products, as well as running strong promotions throughout the store, was the only way to go.”

Engaging with Mace head office and fellow retailers has encouraged Clive to become more experimental with his pricing strategies. “The right product at the right price is vital,” he says. “For example, Red Bull is normally £1.39, so I buy it on promotion and sell it at £1.10. It’s a known value item, so people really notice when you put it on offer, and they perceive the store to provide good value for money.”

In addition to keen prices, Clive has been concentrating on flagging up the value message with his own POS material. “I make up my own POS reading ‘every day low prices’ and attached it to certain key products to really emphasise the point we offer keen prices.”

Added extras

Additional services also bring in more business. “We deliver fruit & veg to the local nursing home every week,” says Clive. The store boasts an impressive, yet reasonably priced, home entertainment offering with its own DVD section, too. “Our DVD price point is strong - 99p for one night’s rental. The fixture is in the corner of the store so people can browse the area. It’s not just the DVDs themselves that sell well, it’s the pull that they create and people will pick up other bits as they walk round.”

The most important service the store provides is its home news delivery, which is taken up by 500 households. In fact, news and mags in total is the biggest part of the business, bringing in 40% of sales. “For that reason it’s vital to make sure things are maintained and displayed properly,” says Clive. “If we don’t sell a title because it’s hidden by another magazine, we’ll get cut on our returns and not get sent as many next time, so it’s a category that involves a lot of discipline in terms of stock management and display.”

While Cork and Fork is reliant on passing trade, the locals come to Mace for all their essentials, and so getting to know the customers is a vital part of making the store a success. “You need to know your customers well, know their names and have a laugh with them. It’s a reason for people to come to us,” says Clive. “I like meeting people and if you can provide a service and enjoy your surroundings, it’s a real asset.” Indeed, customers are so touched by his personal approach, that they actually refer to the store as ‘Clive’s’.

Customer know-how is especially important when it comes to news and mags, explains Clive. “We’re on the Strawberry Line, which takes you to Cheddar and the fishing lakes there, so there are plenty of anglers in the area.”

The Strawberry Line is a popular walking and cycling route, so the shop’s shelves are filled with appropriate reading material, from What Mountain Bike? to Advanced Carp Fishing.

Other categories have also benefitted from Clive’s excellent understanding of his customer base. “In certain seasons, particular foods sell well as bait, such as tins of luncheon meat and sweetcorn, so I make sure we stock plenty.”

He also has an exceptionally good toy range, which is a big hit with local families. “Not many places do toys, so the store makes for an easy birthday present pick-up,” says Clive. “This store is very much the family shop, while the one next door is the posh shop!” he jokes.

Although there is some cross-over between the stores’ customer bases, broadly speaking the Mace meets the needs of local people, while the Cork and Fork deli tends to appeal to commuters en route from Bristol back to their home villages. “I think the two businesses have actually helped each other,” says Clive. “We have recovered all the business that we lost when the Threshers closed, and both stores continue to grow.”

They may be unlikely bedfellows, but it seems the c-store and deli are a match made in heaven. •