Creating a compelling range of local produce isn’t enough for Warwickshire retailer Bart Dalla-Mura. With great displays and well-trained staff, he makes sure his store champions the products he stocks. Ed Chadwick reports

Bart Dalla-Mura has always been keen to put local produce at the centre of his stores.

Perhaps nowhere is this clearer than at his 1,200sq ft Greenhill’s Stores Costcutter in Kineton, Warwickshire. In an affluent village of 2,000 people – many of them elderly – Bart has been tireless in his effort to build in a range of artisan bread, cakes, pies and locally reared meat alongside a traditional convenience offering.

It is his way of making sure the community is well served and cash stays within the local economy. Artisan produce has become a central feature of each of his three stores – but not without hard work and careful building of relationships with suppliers.

His pork pies, for example, travel less than 15 miles from the Outdoor Pig Company to reach his shelves, while much of his meat is bred and butchered by a farmer in Tysoe, where another of his stores operates.

“I let local suppliers come to me and have a big say in what we sell, how it is managed and the price,” he says.

“I have always been happy to work with them to set price, margins and terms. 

“Of course, wastage is an issue. If you have no wastage at all, though, it means you’re not selling enough.”

He cites the example of fresh herbs he has been able to source since supply switched to Nisa in the wake of Palmer & Harvey’s collapse in January. 

“They’re 75p a packet and I’m happy if wastage is 50% on that particular category,” says Bart. “I want people to know I always have coriander. We need to stock everything Lidl has. Actually, since our supply switched to Nisa, my range and availability has improved.”

With local produce at Greenhill’s, meanwhile, Bart’s strategy has been two-fold – great display and well-drilled staff.

Last year, he sourced 100 wooden crates from inkshelving in London, which has created a farm shop feel and allowed him to highlight the quality of his produce.

With a little trial and error, Bart found leaving bakery items and fruit and vegetables loose maximised sales.

“We experimented with bagging bread rolls, but sales fell 15%,” he says. “Because I’ve taken time to source such good-quality bread, I want to leave it naked so people can see how good it is.

“The crates look fantastic but they’re not easy to manage because the capacity is less than other shelving units. The crates require constant restocking so they don’t look shopped out. 

“I switched to using chalkboard signage because we often want to move lines around and it gives extra flexibility. Again, it’s extra work but my staff have had a good understanding of the importance of creating the right look from day one.”

Bart has left nothing to chance with staff training, working personally with each of his five full-time and three part-time employees. Their understanding of the provenance of local produce is paramount.

“They have to know the spiel,” says Bart. “The supplier isn’t in store to tell the story, so my staff have to do it. We have been able to do tastings on lots of lines, but on others, we have to do a job of selling them by simply speaking to our customers.

“I’m very fortunate they’re so knowledgeable and it’s very pleasing to see them talking to customers and not waiting to be asked questions.

“I set an example to them by getting on to the shop floor and encouraging them to be creative.”

Despite the improvements in the store, and an increase in sales and basket spend, the business’s immediate future has unsurprisingly been affected by the disappearance of P&H. 

“I’ve had to put certain things on hold, like my plans to start home delivery for groceries,” says Bart. He is determined this will only be temporary, however. “It’s something I’m very keen to do later this year.” 

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