Inspiring Indies: Bristol Cider Shop

Five years after Peter Snowman (right) and Nick Davis opened the tiny shop under Snowman’s home in Bristol with a few crates of cider, a wing and a prayer, it is going from strength to strength.

The store opened in December 2010 after Snowman spotted there wasn’t a dedicated cider shop in the city – and was met by queues down the street in its first weeks.

He says: “We hired a van for a weekend, drove around Somerset, bought a lot of cider and brought it back thinking if we sell it we sell it, if we don’t we’ll have to drink it.

“It sold so quickly that I ended up driving around Somerset and Herefordshire every day in my car, because we didn’t own a van then, and as soon as we got the stock on the shelf people were buying it.”

The Bristol Cider Shop only sells “proper” full-juice cider – no concentrate allowed – from within 50 miles of the shop. That means staff talk to cider producers all the time, are able to bring them into the shop for tastings and can tell customers the stories and anecdotes behind the drinks that really bring them to life.

What sets you apart from other drinks retailers? We only sell “proper” cider, made from at least 90% juice, by small independent producers within 50 miles of the shop.

Could your shop work anywhere other than Bristol? I personally wouldn’t open a shop anywhere outside a cider area. There might be demand for the cider but you would just be ordering it in and you wouldn’t have that connection with the producer. The point of our shop is as a focal point for West Country cider and a showcase for local producers who can come to the shop and do tastings and connect with the customers. Having said that I would love to open a shop in London. It is just close enough to make it work and the potential market is enormous.

Who is your fiercest competitor? Supermarkets selling cheap commercial cider, dressed up as proper cider, at bargain basement prices. They sell something made from 35% juice and call it craft cider, and there is no way of distinguishing that from something made from 100% juice, with love and care and attention. Until consumers try it they won’t be able to tell the difference between the two.

And how do you maintain an edge over them? By only selling top quality. Once you’ve tried proper cider you’ll never go back.

How do you keep customers coming back? We know our stock inside out. We know what everything in the shop tastes like, who made it and where it comes from. People like that.

What area of the business is performing best? Internet sales are increasing year on year.

What’s your biggest challenge? The location. We’re tucked away down a tiny historic set of steps – which is very pretty but not very practical.

Give us your top retailing tip. If you only stock quality products then you don’t need to sell them – they sell themselves.

What has been your biggest business mistake? In a previous business, going ahead with a disastrous event because I thought it was too late to cancel it. I should have cancelled it.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? Work out what you’re good at – and do that.

Sum up your shop in one sentence. A showcase for the best cidermakers in the West Country.

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