Idyllically located between the Pennines and the Lake District, Joe Stamper’s remodelled family forecourt shop in Penrith is taking the food-fight to the supermarkets in the small town of Penrith.
How would you describe your store?
We are a forecourt but we’ve just completed a refit – something we’ve never done before in terms of the marketing side of things. We are a shop first now and a filling station second. We’ve plenty of car-parking space on-site which means our customers don’t have to drive into town. Now we are more like a small supermarket, they can do a full shop and fill-up, too.
What sort of trading area do you operate in?
A small community area. A lot of the people at the end of town where we are based don’t have cars or travel a long way, and they have to walk to get their food – which is an area we’d like to tap into. This is not our shop, it’s their shop, and we try to buy in at the best price we can so we can sell to the customers at the very best prices.
How long have you been a retailer?
We’ve been here for four generations as a garage but I’ve only really come over in the last six months. I probably couldn’t have done this interview two or three months ago, but since lockdown it’s been all hands on deck!
What is the best and the worst thing about the job?
The best is the interaction with customers and finding out what they want – and then it’s our job to go and explore and find those products. The worst thing? Difficult to say as I’ve come in at the time of the coronavirus, but we have just had to adapt. There’s other businesses and industries where things are a lot worse than this.
What is the biggest challenge in retailing?
We have to keep prices low, but we can’t beat the bigger stores, and Penrith being a small area, there’s quite a lot of supermarkets nearby. But I would say the main challenge is the seasons and knowing what products sell at what times and when to start introducing them. But it’s interesting to see shopping habits change.
Do you think retailers get the respect they deserve from the local community?
I’ve never seen anything to say that we don’t get respect. If our customers are not happy about something then they’ll say; if they are happy then they’ll say as well. I’ve never seen any abuse towards us. It’s a civilized area.
Do you find the suppliers’ category management plans work?
I do, certainly. Filshill every month bring out new promotions and send us leaflets that we can hand out to our customers. They give us planograms on how we can, if we want, portray the shop. But they leave it up to us, which is partly why we like Filshill. We use Nisa’s as well.
What brands or categories do you find bring more footfall into your store?
Milk and bread are still the biggest but snacking is growing, and Cranston’s, a local supplier, sends us great stuff, and we want to make it even bigger. We’ve recently devoted a full area to fruit and veg, plus a full range of chilled meats.
How do you get up to date information on new products?
Reading a lot, through magazines such as yours! Also updates from Filshill and Nisa – and going round other stores, which is a big part of this job. I go weekly and sometimes daily. Not just in our area – we would travel to a store we think had got it right.
How much do your sales depend on seasons and weather?
When it’s sunny on a Saturday in summer you can certainly tell the difference!. You get a Lake District wave and people from the north-east coming cross. Certainly in the summer, BBQ-wise, you can tell the difference between a sunny weekend and a wet mid-week in the winter.
Do you get the support you need from the local police force?
On the whole, yes. We rarely get any trouble round here and we have loyal customer base. If something has gone on, either our customers or staff would know – the best security there is. So it is a bit different up here, very little trouble. If we have a problem the police are good and come very fast.
What is the best piece of advice you would give to your local retailer?
Stick with products. If they don’t sell at first but you believe they will, stick with them and give people time to understand what you have. And have the right staff!
What sections of the store work best for you and which are the most challenging?
We moved milk and dairy to the back of the store which has really helped get customers in, looking at all the other products. At front-of-store we have a list of pound promotions so customers know prices aren’t going to be high. The challenge is to make the most of what you’ve got.
What help/advice would you like to see most from manufacturers/suppliers?
More discounts! But we get a lot of help from Filshill – they’re a family business, too.
Do you ever have customers asking for products they have seen on TV that you know nothing about?
Yes, we have had that but not often – especially seasonal alcohol products, a new gin.
If you were to give up your store tomorrow, what would you like to do?
Explore a career in professional golf!