Today, as it is Sunday, I would normally be working in The Little Cheese Shop. Instead, I am at home, in front of the fire, scoffing chocolate, now that my appetite has returned from being ill most of the year, listening to the Archer’s Omnibus on the radio. It would be damn cold and miserable in the shop, even being fortified by buckets of decaff coffee, with the door open, letting in the cold and frost with a few lost souls braving the elements, prowling the street(s) of Hawes. I can’t tell you how much I relish the luxury of having a Sunday off, it’s been a long time! And it means I can spend some time with my beautiful piggies.
It is a little sad to close the shop but there were a few rather compelling reasons: firstly, and I do not mind admitting it, it has been an awful trading year for the shop, partly as a result of the crummy weather which I think has deterred visitors to Hawes and partly because of the recession where we noticed in the shop that fewer people were willing to spend money on cheese, chutneys and biscuits. Where in 2011, I would say about 95% of customers coming through the door would buy something, in 2012, 75% of people coming through the door would say they were ‘just looking’. One of the larger shops in Hawes has said that 2012 has been their worst trading year since foot and mouth – that is saying something!
Secondly, Lydia who did a sterling effort and managed the shop during the week and on Saturdays has left us, after
three and a half years to run a chip shop in Middleton on Teesdale with her brother; ever the budding entrepreneur and both Stu and I wish her well in her new venture and we miss her! But this means that with just the two of us, me and Stu, we could not keep it open and make cheese, wax and send out customer orders. Add to this, we have just about reached the end of the season. It also did not help that the shop is 1/4 of a mile away and therefore a split site so if it was quiet, there was no other work to do apart from wait for a customer to walk through the door and similarly because we were based at the unit, we were not on hand to help when it got busy.
However, several good things resulted from our shop experience: firstly, we learned a huge amount about retailing which has provided several important lessons; after all we wholesale cheese that ends up in fine food shops, farm shops and delis a lot like ours, so it added to our knowledge and understanding of selling to end users.
Having the shop on the high street in Hawes has definitely raised our profile as I still receive e-mails from people who visited and bought our cheese and chutneys and ask if they can buy them by post. We are more than happy to send cheese and chutney by post – not a problem at all!
Also, having the shop allowed us to trial new products and find out first hand what our customers expected and wanted from us. But one of the biggest learning curves, other than dealing with members of the public, was making chutney. As readers of this blog may know, we made our own chutney to sell in the shop and had around 27 different varieties on sale which were really very popular.
As a result of branching out into chutney making, we have picked up a new customer whose first order was 130kgs of three different types of chutney: our caramelised carrot, pear and Granny’s apple chutney. All of this went out of the door last Monday and we have almost finished replenishing that stock for the next draw down. So now Stu and I are dab hands at peeling carrots, pears and apples, not to mention chopping onions, chillis and garlic, just to add to our skills! If our new customer’s sales forecasts of our chutney continues, this will more than make up for the loss of the shop revenue with few of the downsides.
One door closes and another opens, as they say…….