Me and My Store: Craig Warren, The Corner Stores, Mildenhall, Suffolk

Craig Warren’s family-run store neighbourhood store offers “a bit of everything” to its local community in semi-rural Mildenhall, near Bury St Edmunds – and almost nothing could make him leave.

Craig Warren

How would you describe your store? 

I would describe our store as a small modern convenience store which offers a bit of everything from stamps to something for dinner and the wine to go with it, to a coffee for the morning after. Our store started life as a 480 sqft newsagents but it now covers just short of 1000 sqft and has been this way since 2008.

What sort of trading area do you operate in? 

It’s a suburban housing estate, and the nearest biggish town is Bury St Edmunds. We are right next to the twin airbases of RAF Mildenhall and Lakenheath, where the USAF operates, so we get some American customers coming in.

How long have you been a retailer? 

The store has been in my family since 1987 and I’ve been involved for more than 10 years. It’s been run by myself and my Brother Colin and Sister Tina since 2009 after the retirement of my mum and the passing of my dad. I say retirement but she is still helping out with bits and pieces.

What is the best and the worst thing about the job?

The worst part is easy. It’s the early mornings which you never get used to and it’s as hard today as ever as the winter months approach. The bad is outweighed heavily by the good which is providing something essential for the local community which people need now more than ever. In fact the people are why we do what we do.

What is the biggest challenge in retailing? 

I see the biggest challenge in retailing as the ever-growing presence of the big multiple discounters. But we will always be able to offer something they can’t, which is the personal touch. Knowing someone’s name and a simple,“How’s things?” goes a long way.

Do you think retailers get the respect they deserve from the local community? 

I’d like to think that retailers get the respect they deserve from the local community but it’s a two way street. I think over the last 8 months we have gone above and beyond and that people see that and want to support us. We support them and hopefully they will support us in the future.

Do you find the suppliers’ category management plans work? 

The category management and advice we get from Costcutter is very helpful when deciding which products to stock but also you need to think more on a local level and blend the two together and hopefully you won’t be too far off the mark.

What brands or categories do you find bring more footfall into your store? 

We have just reopened after a refit which has enabled us to concentrate on the growing trends. We increased our space for chilled and fresh produce and allowed for more space for beers, wines and spirits. Those and the increased space for food and coffee to go are the categories we hope will drive more footfall on to store.

How do you get up to date information on new products?

I mainly use the trade press whether that’s in print or online for information on new products but we also have a lot of information about new products from Costcutter.

How much do your sales depend on seasons and weather? 

Our sales are somewhat dependent on the seasons and weather as the nights get darker and the days shorter the evening trade drops off. Also on the other hand in the summer the demand for alcohol and ice cream goes up as people have more BBQ’s and garden parties.

Do you get the support you need from the local police force? 

No complaints here – but it’s a quiet area, a little bit of shoplifting.. We have a panic button that the police would respond to if we really needed them.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to your local retailer? 

I think the best advice I could give to a retailer is listen, listen and listen some more. Not every customer is right but the majority will tell you what they want and need from their local store and that should lead to success.

What sections of the store work best for you and which are the most challenging? 

Our sections of our store which work best are the categories which we decide to expand in our refit. Beers, wines and spirits chilled, fresh produce and food/coffee to go. The most challenging is chilled which we are still learning about regarding the best ways to reduce and tackle wastage. We have great support from Costcutter and everyday is a learning day.

What help/advice would you like to see most from manufacturers/suppliers? 

In the near future we will be looking to suppliers,etc., for help and advice on mobile technology and apps to help move our home delivery service forward to bring us up-to-date so we can compete in the coming years.

Do you ever have customers asking for products they have seen on TV that you know nothing about? 

Just occasionally – I think the last time was a charity promotion for a Wall’s sausage roll we hadn’t heard about.

If you were to give up your store tomorrow, what would you like to do? 

If I were to give up the store I would either stay in retail as a business development manager or something similar or return to the kitchen, which is where I started my working life as a chef.