It’s been described as the biggest convenience store opening of 2017 and last week RN was invited to see the newly-rebuilt Premier Whitstone Village Stores. Owner Dan Cock tells Tom Gockelen-Kozlowski the inside story of this ambitious project

“There’s now a joke in the village that if you’re going to the village shop for a pint you don’t know if it’s milk or beer.”

In the weeks since Dan Cock officially opened his newly-extended Premier Whitstone Village Stores in North Devon, his customers have quickly got used to his convenience store-meets-pub-meets-restaurant-meets-coffee shop.

Dan CockLocated miles from its nearest competition, the store operates in an area without other key local businesses. So when early last year and a decade after entering the industry, he decided to utilise all of his insight and experience in a £200,000-plus refit, Dan decided to step up to fill these gaps. 

“We’re now open 7am til 9pm on weekdays and then until midnight on a Friday and Saturday. That’s when this place comes alive as the village pub – but we can still serve them a pint of milk or loaf of bread to take home,” says Dan.

The speed with which the evolution of this award-winning convenience store has been embraced by its customers is breathtaking – Dan is struggling to keep up with demand for his Sunday carvery and the local toddlers and ladies groups are in discussion to use the new 1,000sq ft dining pace for their meetings.

Yet the journey started with Dan wanting to improve his retail offer.

“Initially all of my focus was on how I could improve the store. I was keenly aware most good stores these days are organised by shopper missions,” he says.

I don’t want to do what I want, I want to do what my customers want

For Dan this has meant basing his layout around zones. From a fresh area with local breads and fruit and vegetables as you walk through the door to an alcohol shop-within-a-shop at the back, this idea features throughout the store.

And in each section his experience in retailing shines through. Working with Booker, Dan was already aware of the power of a three for £5 promotion mechanic on bottled beers. Yet he has gone further and convinced the village’s own microbrewery to produce bottles that meet the same pricepoint as bottles of Bishops Finger and Old Speckled Hen. “It’s simpler for customers if everything’s part of the same deal,” he explains.

The store’s fresh display, meanwhile, is inspired by the theatre-heavy approach of stores such as Gloucester Services and Roli Ranger’s Londis Sunninghill – all achieved with his own twist. “There’s a few little trinkets in our displays such as old scales and milk churns – we’re a farming community and we try to reflect that.”

Alongside this, the new 1,600sq ft retail space affords Dan the room for an extensive range of free-from products, fresh and chilled and local produce – all of which have their own designated area within the store. 

The store is stunning but it is the new dining area that steals the show.

Powered by a £6,000 combi-oven, Dan has employed two chefs and this piece of kit gives them the flexibility to roast meats, cook curries, bake authentic pizzas and keep up with any new catering trends.

Dan Cock“And all we have to do an the end of the day is flick a switch and it deep cleans itself,” Dan says.

That big investment has already paid off: when Dan opened he initially saw fresh breakfast as the main opportunity yet it has been takeaway dinners that have really excited his customers. With the right equipment it has taken little effort to switch his focus.

For a man who has invested years getting ready for this change, months overseeing the project and thousands of pounds investing in it, Dan is remarkably unsentimental about shifting his vision.

“I don’t want to do what I want, I want to do what my customers want.” Every square foot of his store tells you he is living this ideal.

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