Sales of the century

07 September, 2007

Denise Miles's store has served generations of satisfied customers and is about to celebrate its 100th birthday. Emma Eversham reports

West Sussex off-licence Clarkson's of Selsey celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Husband and wife team Denise and Robert Miles have run the business for the past six years and are planning celebrations for the centenary. However, they may not be partying for long if a planning application to build flats on the shop's site is accepted by the local council.

The business has survived longer than many. What has been the secret of its success?

We have only been here since 2001, but I think that being friendly to your customers is the most important thing, because people don't feel embarrassed to come in then. Rob is very knowledgeable about the wine, so he takes great delight in helping people make a choice and we like to take part in whatever is going on in the village. We need to be a focal point of the community. There are people who shop here who used to come in with their parents and now they are customers themselves. They love it because it's such a memorable place.

How are you going to celebrate the business's centenary?

We don't have a record of the exact date it started trading so we are doing lots of little things to celebrate throughout the year. We are hoping to get Gales down here with their horse this month, because this was originally a Gales house, and we have been holding wine and beer tastings outside the shop every Friday during the summer holidays.

Do you specialise in anything?

We stock a wide range of products and have about 1,500 lines in total. We moved away from just stocking the basics when we took over the business, because there are so many different products around these days. I suppose you could say we specialise in bottled ales. We have up to 50 and quite a few of those are local. Customers ask for specific ones so we have tried to stock as many of those as possible. We have also increased our cider range. Last year Magners just went bananas and since then a lot of people who didn't drink cider have started to.

Do you ever run promotions on products?

No, I think you need to be well priced all the time. We tend to do special offers on things now and then, but generally we just do a good price all year round. When the previous owner first came here the supermarkets didn't sell drink, now we've got four in the area that do, but I don't pretend to be a shop like that.

Have you ever tried out an idea and it hasn't worked?

A while ago Sol was doing a big push, so I thought I'd stock it again and get some limes in for customers to serve with it. I bought about 12 and just charged 20p each for them as a bit of a promotion. However an Asian family came in and because they were a good price they decided to buy them all and use them to cook with. I couldn't stop them from buying them, but it sort of defeated the object. I also tried stocking napkins and had a wonderful range which my local customers loved, but I couldn't sell enough of them to warrant having a space for them. I would need to take in about £400 of stock to make the stand look good and I just couldn't afford to keep selling them.

What difficulties do you face as a licensee?

We don't have too much of a problem with under-age customers because we have a tough reputation. If young people come in and don't have ID I won't serve them and neither will my staff. The real battle is with the adults buying alcohol for them. They don't understand the law and that what they are doing could lose me my licence - and they could be fined. The smoking age change in October is also a worry. I know it is happening, but we haven't had anything from the government and I don't know how I'll cope with telling 16 and 17-year-old customers they can't buy cigarettes. I've been warning them and I say give up now, because come October you won't be able to smoke.

What changes, if any, would you like to see in the drinks industry?

More representation from the breweries. We hardly see any reps here these days. We stock the whole Carlsberg range and as a result sell a lot of it. We have a wonderful Carlsberg rep who regularly comes to see us. She helps us with the display and does the fridges and it really makes a difference. It seems that a lot of the beer companies forget about independent off-licences and are only interested in dealing with the supermarkets.

What are the future plans for the business?

We may not get the chance to be here much longer because the landlord wants to knock the building down and build seven flats in its place. We are waiting to hear what the planners have to say, but I think it would be a shame. I have the lease until 2009 and we could move to another shop after that, but I don't think it would be the same.

Top sellers

Thatchers Pear Cider £1.60


Pullman Ale £1.89

Blossom Hill red £4.49 or £11.99 for three

Player's Punch £5.99

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