Poles' vault is top choice

A deli and drinks shop in West Yorkshire's Brighouse beat many to the eastern European explosion. Nigel Huddleston reports

With an estimated 1 million Poles living in Britain, plenty of shops have been taking Polish drinks

on board lately, but a great little deli and drinks shop in the West Yorkshire town of Brighouse has long been ahead of the game.

Czerwik takes its name from a former owner who introduced a

range of Polish vodkas over a decade ago, and current owners Mike Thompson and Martin Holmes have retained the

specialism in that area since taking the shop over in 2001.

Brighouse is famous

the world over for its brass band, which had a number two hit with the Floral Dance in 1977, but in that part of the world it's also famous for Czerwik's cheese, wines, bottled beers and malt whiskies, with a wide range of each spread over two floors.

Unusually in these days when every town centre has the same stores, Brighouse is an oasis of independents, with Czerwik taking a prime high street position.

Manager John Murphy has been with the shop for 13 years and is aiming to buy into the business when one of the partners retires this year .

Here he explains the secret of Czerwik's appeal to its local market.

Has the rest of the world only just started to catch up

on Polish products?

We have noticed a lot of companies supplying Polish products popping up and coming to speak to us, but we've always sold Polish gherkins, sauerkraut, jams and crackers and we use a Polish baker for our teacakes and most of our bread. Polmos suppl ies fairly typical vodkas

such as Zubrowka, Wisniowka, and Krupnik - they're popular and we've always had a good base for them. We've also got more specialist things like a pure Polish spirit . I've noticed that Wetherspoon's has started selling a lot of the Polish beers now, but we were there first.

What's the secret of your success?

It's a combination of all the things in the range. It's like a sweetie shop for adults. It wouldn't work if it was just wine or just beer or just cheese - it all works very well together. People may only come in for a sandwich - which is our lunchtime bread and butter - and we've hooked them. They tend to come back again and again once we've got them in.

Customer service is where we excel. Somebody wrote a book on customer service and we were in that. We treat ­everybody the same, whether they're a millionaire or Joe Bloggs from across the street.

It's quite unusual to have a shop like this in a high street location these days. Who is your customer base?

We have regular customers who do a big shop and we're open until 8pm on Thursdays and Fridays, so we get people spending a good half hour having a look around. We're known as "the cheese shop" but it's so much more than that. We have customers who've been coming here for 10 years who probably don't even know we've got a wine cellar, even though we've got written all over the window: "Come in and see our wine cellar." People don't really look beyond their noses.

What will people find in your wine cellar if they do look that far?

We don't compete with supermarkets on price. There's no point in trying because they'll take you down every single time. We compete with quality products, customer service and product knowledge. You can browse in a supermarket for hours and get no real information and no one to approach to ask what a wine's like. All our staff are well trained on most things. We don't do WSET for everyone but train very much on the job. We encourage staff to form their own opinions about the wines and feed that back to the customers.

You can go to a supermarket and pay £4 or £10 for wine but it's all much of a muchness. Everything's on a par - nothing's particularly bad but nothing's fabulous either. We've got some things that you'd really hate and other things you'd really love, but it's swings and roundabouts. What I might dislike someone else will love.

How do you tell people what you're about?

We don't spend money on advertising as such. Any budget we would use for that goes into stock which we use to put on tastings. It's very difficult with advertising to see what you're getting back, but with tastings you can feel the results.


get a lot of

business through word of mouth.

We hold informal wine tastings on a Saturday, whatever we feel like on the day -

normally one red, one white. We did a haggis tasting with malt whiskies on Burn's Night . It's never very serious. It's more of a social thing but it gets people down there and wandering around looking at wines.

We used to hold Christmas tastings in the shop but it got a bit silly with numbers, so we had the idea of opening other people's shops and putting reps in and giving the customer a list of shops to go to - a bit like a treasure hunt. It gets people visiting other independent businesses too, so it's good for us and for them too.

What is the future plan to develop the business?

There are lots of different bits we want to do with the shop. We have a website but it's very poor, just something we've put up to see if it was popular and got hits. It would be a completely different type of business. With the amount of stock to put on a website and the constantly changing vintages we'd need someone full-time to look after that.

We make hampers around Christmas time which we haven't marketed properly yet, but then we couldn't keep up with demand if we did. Through most of December we'll have 15 people behind the counter but the shop is constantly full. We also do a bit of corporate business with that. At Christmas we're here seven days a week, and we've even slept here before because we've been so busy.

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