Talk of the town

In the quiet Galloway village of Creetown, Bob Yacamini and Brigid Taylor have recently refitted their shop, becoming a Premier store and expanding their floor space. SLR took a drive south to check it out.

By Kevin Scott

Creetown is a village like hundreds of others in Scotland. It has a small but close population which expands in the summer months when tourists pass through. Close to the south coast of Scotland, it’s a beautiful part of the country, and it’s also home to a new Premier store. Bob Yacamini and Brigid Taylor took up residency in the village in September 2011 after acquiring the local shop and moving into the house upstairs.

To say the couple didn’t have a traditional route into retail is something of an understatement. Brigid’s background is in care and teaching, while Bob has had a varied career to say the least, from working in a second hand bookshop, to developing property and teaching English in China. It was when he and Brigid returned to Scotland after travelling that they decided to open their own shop. Bob says: “I had some capital left from property development so when we returned we started looking at what we could do; we looked at pubs, restaurants and shops. Running a convenience store had better margins and better hours.”

The couple ended up in Creetown purely because it ticked a number of boxes – it had an available shop, it wasn’t in a city, and there were good schools in the area. In fact, when SLR visited Brigid was just weeks away from giving birth to their first child. “We did a lot of research,” says Bob. “We came down for the weekend and took a lot of the place in, spoke to locals in the pub and so on.” After negotiating the sale, Bob and Brigid immediately began speaking to buying groups. In the end, Booker was the standout. Brigid says: “the previous owners had done a good job, but we wanted to take the shop to the next level and Booker seemed the most lively partner to do that with.” The couple wanted a Premier fascia from the off, however Booker offered the Shop Local format and it was only last year, after two years of trading, that Booker agreed to a conversion to Premier.

The work was completed in January and included a full refit, including an extension that saw the shop floor taking space from the stockroom. “The shop local format was a great introduction for us,” says Brigid. “It was great as a platform for us as new retailers. We’d have preferred to have been a Premier before but we are now.” The shop itself is typical of a rural store, but the refit has smartened it up to a high standard.

The range is well merchandised, the floorspace roughly shaped like a backwards L, with pet food and household products housed in a separate room up a couple of stairs. This is the new expanded area which has allowed more facings and more lines to fit into the main shopfloor. Another welcome addition is a food to go counter, with bean to cup coffee from Lavazza and a microwave station. There’s a small frozen sector that performs very well too; with no competition nearby if locals want to stock up their freezer there’s only one place to do it. In fact, the only competition in the area is a car garage that sells rolls. If you want another shop, you’re getting in a car or waiting on the bus. So, while the footprint of the shop is only around 1,000 plus summer tourists, it is a hugely captive audience. Given the remote location and size of the shop Booker delivers twice a week, which Bob says has its frustrations and makes order management all the more crucial.

As well as these main deliveries products come in from local butchers and bakers as well as Cream of Galloway ice cream, of which there is an impressive range. “It’s about local support for local producers,” says Brigid. The demographic, in Bob’s words, is mixed, covering the unemployed to retired middle classes, which makes stockholding varied. “We have everything from premium brands to Booker’s own-label products,” he says. “We need to have that mix.”

There’s also an outreach post office, which in addition to the National Lottery, is a strong footfall driver. Like any retailer away from a motorway, Bob has frustrations with many aspects of the supply chain, but admits that’s the nature of rural retailing. On the flip side of course is that captive audience, and it’s one that is also in line with overarching trends for value and smaller baskets. “The industry is changing,” says Bob. “We’ve come in at a time when people are looking to do more top-up shopping and in an area like Creetown they don’t want to drive to the nearest supermarket. We’re the shop to come to if you don’t want to drive for five miles.” He adds that price marked packs play a huge part in the shop’s range. “They help make us more competitive with the supermarkets. We know we can be as cheap as Sainsbury’s on a number of lines. Convenience has changed a lot. There may be a Lidl not far from here but no one can go there and buy a Mars bar.”

The shop is doing so well that the couple are considering taking on more staff – something that may be accelerated with Brigid’s impending maternity leave. Of the staff currently employed there’s a good mix of ages. “Someone like Lynn has been here 14 years and she’s told us as much as we’ve told her,” says Rob. “And then we’ve got someone like Louise who started here at 17 and is now doing level 3 SVQ in retail.” It’s that sort of reinvestment in the community that helps build a shop’s reputation. In a place as small as Creetown, the local retailers quickly become known the residents of the town and if they are warm, welcoming and can provide a good range of products then success is bound to follow. These are thing that have come second nature to Bob and Brigid, despite being relative newcomers to the convenience game. It’s great to see, and with a baby on its way, it won’t be long before there’s an extra pair of hands helping out behind the till.

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