The 13,000sq ft CT Baker Budgens of Holt store trades with almost 40 local suppliers operating within a 20-mile radius of Holt and each year he runs his own Local Supplier of the Year Awards, with the winners’ names having pride of place on an honours’ board in the middle of the fresh produce department.
Baker, who unsuccessfully stood as a Ukip candidate in the local parliamentary constituency in two general elections, is keen to emphasise the benefit to the community of businesses and people supporting local companies and so boosting the economy in the area.
He says one of the things he “cannot abide” is shopping for fruit and vegetables in the major supermarkets and so some time ago he started to ditch pre-packed fresh produce and went mainly for loose produce and, where possible, local produce from “just down the road”, as he puts it.
My visit was back in September and Baker was extolling the virtues of one of his major suppliers who provides him with strawberries, raspberries autumn. “Our strawberries are with us a couple of hours after they are picked,” he says.
In fact, strawberries and asparagus are the “top two most profitable items in the store”. “Anything here at the end of the day that looks second hand, he [the supplier] takes away and gives it back to us as strawberry jam!”
His son-in-law raises Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs and he sells the resulting sausages in this store, as well at his Budgens outlet in nearby Aylsham. Baker does admit that at home he does
eat the Spoilt Pig bacon brand supplied by Booker.
Baker has also built up some long-term associations with local suppliers, such as Pointens Dairy, which approached him back in the early 1980s after deciding to sell their own milk directly to customers, rather than go through the then Milk Marketing Board. He started selling the milk in the Bakers & Larners department store, with the Budgens supermarket now stocking the dairy’s range of yogurts.
The grocery store also stocks the range of cheeses sold under the Mrs Temple’s brand, which are produced on a local farm. “We were her first commercial retailer and since then she has become a very significant person in local cheese [production]. We brought her to market,” says Baker.
He also sources free-range chickens, Michael Baker as well as ducks and some turkeys at Christmas, from Martin’s Farm at Walsingham. The store sells 35 to 40 of the farm’s whole chickens each week at £10 to £12 each, compared to the 180 of Booker’s Farm Fresh whole chickens, priced at £4 each.
Other local producers include Ronaldo Ices from Norwich, as well as local beers such as Woodforde’s, Panther Brewery (both in Norwich) and Yetman’s Brewery, which is based in an old barn on a farm just outside Holt. Another Holt-based supplier is Candi’s Chutney, which is produced by a husband-and-wife team.
Local demand also came to the fore on the sugar fixture when Baker initially had difficulty sourcing the Silver Spoon brand through Booker after it had taken on Budgens from Musgrave. The sugar is made from Norfolk sugar beet and it has a strong following in the county. He says customers told him “sod this, we won’t shop here”. Silver Spoon now has pride of place on the fixture.
Baker has owned the Budgens store in Holt for 10 years, compared to the 240 years his family has run the Bakers & Larners department store, which is situated just a minute’s walk away and upmarket wine offering.
The Budgens outlet was originally a company-owned store before Musgrave Retail Partners decided to sell it a decade ago and offered it to Baker. He had just committed to a £500,000 extension of the department store, but he decided he had to take on the Budgens business as well.
“The problem was that if we didn’t do it then somebody else would and they could come in, move it upmarket and compete [with the department store]. The only answer was to buy Budgens ourselves, carry on and move it upmarket from where it was, but doing it so it allowed them [the two stores] to work together.”
He has the task of making the two businesses different from each other, primarily to protect the margins enjoyed in the department store. For instance, Bakers & Larners sells its own-brand
coffee beans, while the Budgens store recently started to market the CT Baker’s ground coffee range, which is available in six different variants. “We will be moving on to tea next,” he says.
A couple of years after buying the Budgens store, he realised the shop was not big enough and as a result he added an extra 5,000sq ft of space to the original 8,000sq ft store.
The extra space available proved fortuitous in 2016 when the post office in Holt was due to close and Baker applied to take it on, moving out a non-food offering to incorporate a full-service post office with an in-store ‘fortress’. Baker says the post office is doing “very well” and is bringing in new customers.
The Holt store is quite an operation, with 90 members of staff , 10 checkouts and its own delivery service, which was recently boosted by the addition of a new delivery van.
Customers can email orders or come into the shop to arrange for the shopping to be delivered anywhere in an area within a 10-mile radius of the town. At a £20 minimum spend for free delivery, the business is now making 30 deliveries a day, rising to between 40 and 50 in the run-up to Christmas.
Holt is in an affluent area of Norfolk, but Baker is well aware that competitors, including Lidl, Co-op, Morrisons and Tesco stores, are all within reasonable driving distance of the town and they do impact on his business.
On my visit, Baker was about to launch a price-cutting promotion on a mix of brands and own-label sourced from Booker and products from some of his local suppliers.
“We will be showing the people of Norfolk that it isn’t only Lidl that can offer cheap products. We will be running a series of loss leaders to gain footfall back into the store. The prices we will be putting out will be cheaper than the supermarkets,” he says.
Retailer’s name: Michael Baker
Store name: CT Baker Budgens of Holt
Location: Holt, Norfolk
Shop size: 13,000sq ft
Staff numbers: 90 full-time and part-time staff members
Opening hours: 8am to 8pm Mondays to Saturdays.