What’s the story behind your shop, how did it come about?
Back in the early 80’s, I was a Director and shareholder of a property company that was developing shopping malls in southern England. One of these malls had a cheese specialist, Peter Glanville, which, as I observed was doing brisk business. One day, a friend Gerry Stevens and myself were in Oxford and quite by accident, wandered into the Covered Market. We both loved it, and when we noticed that one of the units was available to rent, we decided to take it and go into the cheese business.
How did you feel you were able to start a cheese shop when presumably you were inexperienced in cheese retail?
“He who dares wins” as Delboy was fond of saying. Gerry was the manager and producer of a couple of well-known pop groups at the time and I, apart from my involvement in the property company, had varied interests which included film production and furniture design. So starting a cheese shop with very little expertise apart from being fond of the stuff seemed like the right thing to do. But I was fortunate to know Pete Glanville who had now started the Cheltenham Cheese Company and who very kindly agreed to give us the basic information and contacts to set up on the right path.
Did you think of opening other shops?
We did, by mid-1985 we had opened a branch in Kingston upon Thames, one in Epsom and one in High Wycombe. We soon realised that managing cheese needs far more care and attention than the general run of retailing. The logistics of managing 4 specialists cheese shops turned into a nightmare and we decided was not worth pursuing.
So now you only have the one shop?
Yes we sold or disposed of the other shops and kept the original shop in the covered market. Instead of expanding our retail operation, we actually branched out into wholesale and production.
What are the advantages of being based in a market, rather than on the high street?
The high street retail shop will be seen as more substantial and create possibly a more up market image.
But the main advantage of being in a market environment is that once the roller blinds are up there is no barrier between your counter and the prospective customer. No shop front and front door to intimidate and for the customer to hesitate from coming in and browsing. The second advantage is that you do not pay rent or business rates on the space in front of the shop on which the customer stands, so you are effectively getting a lot of extra space rent and rates free.
How does a retail shop fit in with your overall operation?
The shop operates separately from the wholesale and production company which is based at our warehouse a few miles out of Oxford.
But it is important not just for the obvious reasons of profitability but for the variety of cheese we can stock and move, especially now that we are investing so much in internet sales.
As from last year, we launched our retail website www.oxfordcheese.co.uk where we offer a large proportion of the cheese available for sale in our retail shop. Our emphasis is on artisanal cheeses especially from the Alpine region and Ewes milk and Goats milk from the French regions.
We have been very surprised, agreeably so, by the way sales have taken off, and we were run off our feet at Christmas and sales are continuing to hold up.
We also offer on the website a same day delivery service, by bike, to the whole of Oxford within the ring road.
Although the cheese shop is a very important part of our total business, the main thrust of our company is the production and sale of our brands, Oxford Blue, Oxford Isis, College White and Oxford Sauce.