Having worked at Cawdrons family-run butchery in Stalham, Norfolk, since age 13, James Cawdron (pictured with son Max) bravely decided to step out of his comfort zone and open up an adjoining convenience store at the end of last year.
He was inspired to add a c-store to the butchery after seeing the success of H V Graves in Briston, Melton Constable, which combines a butcher, bakery and general convenience store. “I know the owners Paul and Karl [Graves] very well and I went out there and I looked at that and I thought that could go quite well in our business,” he explains.
With new flooring, fixtures and fittings, the Nisa store certainly looked the part, and James had high hopes for a flying start, but found himself a bit deflated. “There has been so much outlay, it’s been really stressful. I thought it was going to be easier,” he says.
“When you’ve been at the forefront of getting another shop together, you’ve been going hell for leather for three months, and you’re stressed out and you’ve got workmen everywhere, and when it all starts to die out and you open your shop, the pace slows down a little bit.”
The shop didn’t make quite the impact he was hoping for when it opened its doors on 20 December. “I think everyone had already done their Christmas shopping [by the time we opened],” he sighs. “Also, we ordered stuff for the new for the New Year and it never came until after the New Year, so we were lumbered with other drinks and stuff.”
But after a slightly lacklustre start, James was determined to make a success of the store to ensure he maximises on the lucrative summer trade headed his way when the tourists arrive in the popular boating town.
One area that showed immediate potential at Cawdrons Nisa was the store’s Cook offer. “I put three freezers in and customers were asking whether we were going to get the desserts, so I took a bay out and put another two freezers in,” says James. “It’s the best thing that I’ve done”.
Self-serve drinks to go has been another draw. “I’ve got a new Marlow Costa Coffee machine and Tango Ice Blast and they’ve gone really well, even through the winter months. We’ve gone through about four Ice Blast gas bottles already.”
His next move has been to integrate the butchery and convenience offers. “We put on a special offer for Valentine’s Day with a bottle of Prosecco, a box of Milk Tray chocolates, a Cook dessert, steak sauce, and two 10oz rump steaks for £29.99. We added a free packet of Love Hearts [sweets] in and a free Cawdrons cool bag (worth £5) and it went really well.
“We’ll definitely do something for Easter incorporating a piece of lamb with a bottle of wine.”
In-house baked goods made with the butchery meat have been another hit for the c-store.
“My wife makes our own pies, they’re one of the most popular things that we sell in the butchery,” says James. “I said, ‘let’s take them out of the butchery and stick them in a new freezer in the convenience store right next to the Cook meals because they’ll complement each other’.” The pies flew off the shelves and have since been joined by sausage rolls. “The homemade lines are a good earner,” he observes, though he notes that c-store margins are generally much tighter than those in butchery.
Encouraging convenience customers to trade up to added-value butchery meat is also part of the plan. “We shut the butchery down on Sunday and pre pack for the convenience store so people can come in and get what they want - burgers, sausages, BBQ packs etc.
“We’ve already put a bit of fresh meat into the shop and for BBQ season we’re going to put pre-packed fancy meats in store like stuffed products and marinated products to give the customers something completely different to what they sell down the road [in Tesco].”
A generous selection of chilled alcohol is helping James stay ahead of the local competition. “I’ve got a five metre length of chilled alcohol because I don’t think the store near here offers chilled alcohol,” says James. “That will do us well in the summertime when the tourists come off the boats and they all like a pack of cold beers because they’ve got limited space on the boats.”
He is also supplying meat, drink and fresh produce for tourist welcome hampers, which are made up for shepherd huts that people rent in the holidays.
Setting up a convenience store hasn’t been plain sailing, but James is certain that marrying the two businesses will work in the long run. “Butchery has been my life and this is completely different and out of the ordinary,” he says. “So I’m having to look at it from a different angle and look at it more as a complete business now.
“The whole situation works well. The butchery combined with the shop has a good feel to it … Once we get to Easter time, I think it will then start to pick up quite nicely.”