“Can you imagine having a shop where your customer base changes every week?” says Chris Bancroft, from Muir Lea Stores in Robin Hood’s Bay. “On a Tuesday in winter we might have 40 people come in, on a sunny day in summer it might be more than 500. It’s like having two different shops.” 

Situated between Whitby and Scarborough, the seaside village of Robin Hood’s Bay is popular with tourists. Chris thinks that around 90% of the houses near the store are holiday cottages, and says the shop does around 50% of its business each year between May and August. 

“There’s probably only 50 people who live at the bottom of the bay permanently, compared to about 100 when we first took over the shop five and a half years ago,” he explains. “It’s completely changing how we operate. We have a core customer base of about 20-30 people, but the rest are visitors.”

Despite this unpredictability, Chris and his wife, Wendy, have managed to strike the right balance by always being well-stocked and affordable. “People call us the everything shop,” he reveals. “In summer, you’ve got to have absolutely everything in. If a customer visits and can’t find the essential item that they want, they’ll go elsewhere to do their whole shop.”

Keeping such a varied range in stock is far from easy for the Bancrofts. The shop measures around 100sq ft and has no store stock room. It’s located on a tight road that makes it impossible for large vehicles to reach it. 

To overcome these obstacles, they get deliveries to their home in Scarborough, and then transport the products to the store themselves.

“You have to be flexible like that. Rather than saying you can’t get certain items stocked, you need to come up with a solution so you can work with those suppliers that give the best prices,” says Chris.

This work with suppliers allows the store to keep giving its customers the best value possible. “There are items now that are cheaper than they were five years ago, and our core items like eggs, milk and bread haven’t increased in that time,” says Chris. 

Alongside affordability, the Bancrofts’ constant search for new suppliers has helped them to offer something different with their shop. They have enjoyed a lot of success recently with their alcohol section.

“We realised quite early on that we couldn’t get the branded wines, the likes of Hardys and Jacob’s Creek, at a decent price. It would have been cheaper to go to our local supermarket to get them instead of a wholesaler or cash and carry,” Chris reveals.

“So, we quickly changed our approach. We now work with suppliers who offer the brands customers won’t have heard of but are good quality wines. These suppliers are normally working with restaurants. It’s been an interesting road to go down – people come back just to buy our wine, because it’s good quality at a good price.”

Chris believes consistently thinking outside the box is key. “For our beers, we started talking to local breweries. Now, our bestselling beer by a long way is from Whitby. Customers like it because it’s from such a local brewery, and I get a lot of them wanting to try the whole range. 

“The margin on it is good as well – we make about 83p a bottle. Because it’s a local supplier, we’re getting about the same as we would with one of the bigger brands from a wholesaler or cash and carry.”

Other items taken from local suppliers include jams and preserves, fresh bread and pies from a local bakery, and fresh fruit and vegetables. For Chris, it’s all about mixing these premium, locally supplied items with the everyday things his core customers need. 

“Because of our broad mix of customers, we’ve got a lot of boxes to tick with our store,” he explains. 

Chris and Wendy are always pushing to find new opportunities for their store. “Obviously we can’t do a newspaper delivery service here, because there aren’t enough people who live in the area. So, what we’ve worked on is supplying holiday cottages and cleaning companies with welcome packs for their guests,” explains Chris.

These welcome packs include a bottle of milk, a couple of jars of jam, biscuits and cakes, all supplied by Muir Lea Stores. “When we took the shop on there were only three accounts for these packs,” says Chris. “We’ve managed to build that to more than 20 customers now. There’s even a street where we supply every cottage.”

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