Our little cheese shop, in Hawes, opened on 11th August, a little under three weeks ago.
It has been a massive learning curve and we have picked up much along the way, made mistakes, and had to learn a load of new things and develop new contacts; where to source things like till rolls, weight ticket labels, paper bags and what size, cling film dispensers etc. Then there is the whole presentation: how to display things to their best advantage and so on.
One of the biggest things has been sourcing non cheese items for the shop and developing new supplier relationships. That in itself has been quite interesting: two suppliers refused to deal with us, (one was Yorkshire Tea) because they said they supplied other people in Hawes, so this made us even more determined to source completely differentiated, top quality, and wherever possible local products to ensure our uniqueness in Hawes. The last thing we want to do is sell the same items you can get elsewhere. So far, the feedback has been very positive: that we do have different and high quality goods.
Opening New Supplier Accounts
Another interesting finding was the number of suppliers who refused to provide us with trade or wholesale prices unless we completed an account application opening form. That in itself is not a problem; I asked two of our largest existing suppliers a while back if they would agree to act as referees as I knew we would need to open a number of new supplier accounts. But to refuse to give us prices unless we opened an account seems a little nonsensical as how do we know we want to open an account if we do not know the prices? That is a waste of everyone’s time!
It has been both nerve wracking and exciting at the same time – having to take the window out of a 17th century building was not fun (to get our refrigerated counter in the shop)! Discovering that the weekly Tuesday Hawes market pretty much obliterates any access to the shop has been disappointing, but never mind, we will close on Tuesdays – we open on Saturdays and Sundays.
Not having a sign for five days also didn’t help our cause! Such a simple and obvious thing that we overlooked. Ooops! I like to think that we have experienced the major pitfalls so far and have managed to settle down into a good routine.
Lydia is doing a sterling job as the manager and has got it all under control.
Split of Sales
About 70% of all sales are our cheese, which is brilliant! Of this, probably half is our Old Tyme Wensleydale, made by us in a slow, long, traditional make and then the other half comprises mostly the goat and sheep cheese that we make. Perhaps it is unsurprising that our Wensleydale is our best seller, given where we are. A further 10% of all sales are the chutneys that we have branded under our own name and are made just three miles away. They are made specifically to go with cheese – one for goat cheese, one for mild cheese, one for strong cheese, one for blue cheese and so on. A further 10% of sales are cheese related kitchenware. Interesting. I have started to talk to customers who have shops about their stock and sales and we compare and contrast information!
We Made This!
It is such a great opportunity to tell customers with a great deal of pride, that we make much of the cheese on sale and smoke all of the cheese on display. Lydia does make cheese, as do I and also Stuart and a lot of people look up in a sort of amazement when we go through the cheeses in the cabinet identifying which cheeses we make saying, ‘we make this’, which is quite gratifying.
Sourcing Friend’s Cheeses
It is also nice to be able to source cheese from some of our cheese making friends, such as John and Bob’s award winning baby blue cheeses, Graham and Fiona at Mrs Kirkham’s who make the truly excellent Lancashire and Quickes superlative Mature Cheddar and Double Gloucester, both of which prove the difference between a real, well made cheese and some of the supermarket mass produced pap.
Our customers on the whole have been exceptionally nice, and very knowledgeable about cheese; quite discerning, really. Whilst the bulk of customers so far have been tourists, which is fine, in the season, (we hope they will go home and ask for our cheese at their local deli!) we need to be more sustainable than that. (We have plans….!)
We are starting to get repeat local customers who have said how pleased they are that there is a little cheese shop in Hawes, and that they will come back, which is great. We have sold a few hampers with a selection of our cheeses to locals too. They are also very enamoured of our bottled goat milk, which is the same milk that we use to make our goat cheese.
Raising Our Profile
Hopefully and slowly we are getting the message across that there are TWO CHEESE MAKERS IN HAWES! It can be frustrating living under the shadow of our friends up the road, with people not appreciating that there is a small, four person dairy making artisan goat, sheep and cow cheese in Hawes.