Six years on – and the beginning of a new era

Six years ago we opened our doors here at Tregurra Park in Truro, next to a brand new Waitrose store. It was the supermarket’s most westerly location and my first step into retail, so a move not without challenges for both of us – and what an amazing time it’s been!

Putting an independent food hall selling entirely local produce slap bang next to a major supermarket, with customers able to shop with one trolley, coming and going between the two stores, was greeted with scepticism from some quarters. How could it ever work? How would the little guy ever survive?

I admit I shared some of those thoughts, often in the middle of the night. Waitrose is a great store; why would anyone cross the threshold to a neighbouring shop also selling groceries? You hear terrible things about supermarkets; would they be out to get me?

I could have spared myself those sleepless nights. Waitrose have in fact been remarkable neighbours and thoroughly decent. I genuinely believe from day one they have been as keen as I have to see the Great Cornish Food Store thrive.

And thrive it has. Thanks to so many things. Cornwall’s stunning produce for starters. There is such a variety on our doorstep, and the quality is second to none.  Our people have been amazing.  Our ethos and integrity are sound.  We got the design right.  We understand business and we know our customers. These are business basics, but without them you will never survive, however hard you try or whatever else you do.

I’m proud of all those things but even more proud of what we’ve achieved beyond these four walls. Our raison d’etre has always been very much about the opportunities we could create for Cornwall’s food and drink industry so it’s gratifying to know that to date we’ve paid around £8m directly to our local suppliers.  We’ve given some of them the chance to develop new elements to their business. We’ve helped others on their first step of the ladder. For many, we were a lifeline during the pandemic when Cornwall’s hospitality industry closed down.  And even for some of Cornwall’s most well-known brands, we’re an important window to the world.

An unexpected bonus has been creating opportunities for our employees, developing them and being able to show that it’s perfectly possible to have rewarding and interesting careers in retail and hospitality.  We have such a range of professional skills here.  People have joined us wearing one hat but have had the chance to discover that another actually fits them better. We’ve given others enough confidence in themselves to go and develop careers they hadn’t dared aspire to before.

I always wanted this to be so much more than just a shop to come and buy things and we’ve proved we can do that day in, day out.  There have been many memorable moments that don’t happen every day too. Like hosting royal visitors; or a two Michelin starred chef cooking in our tiny kitchen; winning awards; starting up a delivery service overnight; or being on TV with a giant gurnard made of cake!

However, six years on, our business model, which was set up in great haste back in 2016, needs to change.  It’s overly dependent on my own existence and I won’t be around for ever.  Therefore, while I don’t intend to be disappearing any time soon, it’s definitely time to find a better way of safeguarding all that we’ve created here.

Having looked at various options, I wanted to do something that reflects what a huge asset our people, our suppliers and our customers have become, and does justice to the way they’ve helped me turn the store into such a success over the past six years, particularly the last two, which have been so challenging for us all.

Today, the Great Cornish Food Store is therefore becoming an employee-owned company, which means that our employees now own the business, so they get a say in how it is run and a share of the profits. It also gives them greater job security while giving our suppliers and customers reassurance that the Great Cornish Food Store is in it for the long haul.

It will still be the Great Cornish Food Store that so many people have come to know and love. The same team will still be there, and the same incredible products will still be on the shelves and on the counters. It may sound strange, but if there’s no noticeable difference, I’ll be very happy, as it will mean that all the work we have put in to make this changeover happen as smoothly as possible has paid off.

I’m sure this is the best option for moving the store forward and ensuring its long term future. Our team are delighted with the opportunity to be actively involved in some of the major decision making about their future, and I know we will keep going from strength to strength.

Here’s to the next six years – and beyond!