West Chiltington's Londis store could be any other village corner shop - it's got groceries, a Post Office counter and a small drinks section that makes up about 12.5 per cent of its turnover. But from the back of Steve and Lynda Denham's Cherilyn Stores you can see vines growing on the opposite hill. They belong to Nyetimber, one of England's best-known and most awarded wineries. Steve talks about how having a local vineyard has helped his business.
Do you sell much wine from your neighbours?
Last year Nyetimber's classic blend was our third most important non-newspaper product - number one and number two were different sizes of semi-skimmed milk. It is quite remarkable for us - we've got two sparkling wines from Nyetimber, which has a world reputation, and one from Nutbourne, Nutty. We don't stock Champagne, we don't need to. We have sold £10,000-worth of Nyetimber in the past 12 months. The Classic Cuvée, a traditional Champagne blend, is a winner, but the Chardonnay single varietal Premier Cuvée has been picking up. This year we are selling the 2000 vintage.
With the Nyetimber wines at £24.99 and Nutty at £14.49 you must have a pretty high average bottle spend?
It's nice, isn't it? We started out here as a newsagent and moved to trying at convenience with a licence. Coming from a newspaper retail background, you look at 35p and 70p average spend for a newspaper. Alcohol is important in the convenience mix.
In the other areas we do our customers are continuously looking for three-for-£10 deals. We have built beer sales by running continuous price offers such as eight-for-£6 or £7 on the main brands, because we know we are up against tough competition.
Who are your closest competitors?
Tesco is three miles away and Wine Rack and Somerfield are two miles away. Calais is also a competitor. Seventy-five per cent of our customers are over 45, and the closer they get to retirement the more they like going on trips to France. We've got a bottle bank opposite us and clearly the majority don't come from our shop.
Whenever we have asked customers where they buy wine and in what sort of quantity, they almost always say they buy it in box deals. But they won't do it here, unless it's three for £10 - they only want to do it in the places they want, if that makes sense.
What are your customers like?
They are mostly well-off - this is an expensive village to live in and the type of people reflect that. But I wouldn't say we don't have distressed households. Just across the road there is social housing, and some of our closest neighbours are over in the warden-assisted retirement flats. They like their beer over there, especially John Smith's at eight-for-£6.
At one stage we lived in Eastbourne and it was always a joke that people arrived in Eastbourne just waiting to die, and after a few years they forgot and continued on. I wouldn't say that is the same in this village, rather that it is a village where they grow old gracefully.
How long have you been with Londis?
We joined Londis in 2000. Before that we were independent, supplied by Palmer & Harvey. The advantages to joining a fascia group are that there is that much greater degree of support, if you want it, from the company. I'm not sure that there are disadvantages. The Londis contract is pretty light in its touch, because we can walk away in a very short period.
What are your biggest challenges?
One of the challenges alcohol and tobacco retailers are having, particularly with the tobacco age moving to 18 on Oct 1, is the continued pressure from the enforcing authorities, whether they are police or Trading Standards. I don't think having Challenge 21 will work anymore. We hear Tesco Express have gone to Challenge 30, and we are certainly looking at doing something similar to that when we get to Oct 1. Touch wood we've never had a problem with age-restricted selling.
We still get unpleasant teenagers - we have been asking for proof of age for a long time, with a refusal policy, and recently we have been getting an increase in verbal abuse because we are refusing. I suspect that when we get to October we will find more, because these 16 and 17-year-olds have suddenly had their tobacco cut off.
Where we've got people with proof of age that they are under 18 we've started telling them that from October they won't be able to buy, and they don't know what we are talking about. The government isn't going to tell them, there is going to be no TV advertising, it is just going to use teenage magazines and the internet.
What changes have you made to your drinks range, and what plans do you have?
We have been attempting to work up the price range, particularly on the Australians. One of our successful introductions over the past 12 months is Yellow Tail, particularly the Shiraz, which is a very pleasant wine under £6. Even the Bishop of Horsham enjoys that one.
This year we've moved into more expensive lager, and that has been popular. One that's really quite surprised me is Peroni Nastro Azzurro, which we brought in on a promotion and now is our top-selling high-priced bottled lager at full price.
This year we are 7 per cent up on alcohol, and it is how we increase the cash take on it. We want to move it, because at the moment it is near the counter, so we can see it, but we get the Post Office queue here and that deters people from looking at alcohol.
For more about fascia groups such as Musgrave Budgens Londis, see OLN's Fascia Focus supplement with this issue.