From turkeys to tearooms, Bart Dalla Mura was the former chief executive of Bernard Matthews before moving behind the till of independent retail and opening a convenience store and tearoom. But despite now running his own, smaller, empire he argues the business doesn’t belong to him.
Location: Tysoe, Gloucestershire
Trading since: March 2010
Staff: Five (part-time)
Hours: 8am-8pm Mon-Sat, 9am-7pm Sun
Style: A rural village shop with deli and tearoom attached. Bart collaborates with the post office and baker to offer a community edge. The closest multiple is a 20-minute drive, but there are other village shops on route to his store.
“It isn’t my shop, it’s the community’s shop,” says Bart. “We know literally everybody that comes in.”
Following a long career in FMCG, with a CV including Allied Bakeries, Nestle and Unilever, he has discovered that the challenges a small business faces are not worlds apart from those faced by corporate companies. “No matter how big the company, it’s all just zeroes and the amount of people you deal with. I used to have a board of six directors; therefore I could oversee six projects. But when we did the refit here, I had to do marketing, purchasing, design and finance so that was tough.”
His refit took place at the end of 2010 with the aim of creating a village shop. To do so he had to move away from a typical c-store format, by moving fresh vegetables and bread to the front and confectionery to one side. The store now has an imitation wood floor, to create a nostalgic feel, and is more open plan, to improve the ambience as well as accommodating his elderly customers. He’s also increased the original owner’s opening hours, resulting in a 30% increase in turnover.
“They used to shut at 1pm on Sundays, because they had a different philosophy about managing stock. They didn’t have anything left so they didn’t see the point in being open,” says Bart.
His past experience has meant that he has a keen eye to spot a business opportunity and to drive it forward. Next to the store was an unused bungalow, which he decided to turn into a tearoom to create a heart for the village. He has also started a loyalty scheme. There were already 250 active members on the Costcutter loyalty card and Bart wanted to push the idea further by creating his own scheme to attract more customers to both the store and tearoom.
“The deli and tearoom is just to cover its costs and wages, maybe make a bit of profit, but they are mainly to bring people to the shop. If it means I get an extra £300 a week in the shop because someone uses the tearoom, then thinks ‘I just need some vegetables’, that’s great. But the key thing the tearoom does is sandwiches, because they’re made with the store’s artisan bread and are out of this world. It provides another reason for people to come – we do £300-£400 a week on sandwiches.”
As well as reaching out to customers from a commercial perspective, Bart is a part of every aspect of village life in Tysoe. His store sponsors every local event from the Santa run to pantomimes and has given £1,000 to the nearby school.
Bart’s enthusiasm for small town life may seem surprising, but does he actually miss the big corporate lifestyle? “In some ways, because it’s another type of community, but I’m still involved in GroceryAid so I see my old peers and then I realise I’m very happy to be where I am.”
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