Peter Durose used to oversee sales of more than £2bn a year as head of fresh produce at Tesco. But last April he gave up his £250,000 salary to set up fine food boutique The English Grocer in his home town of Buntingford in Hertfordshire.
It's a bit like Isambard Kingdom Brunel playing with a toy train, such is the change of pace. But, he says, he'd had enough of 6am starts, late finishes and not seeing enough of his young family.
“I had a fantastic time at Tesco, but I was working very hard,” he says. “I had little time to spend with my children. It got to the point where I asked myself if I wanted to do this for another 10 years, and I realised I wanted something different.”
The decision to open a grocery store was borne out of a conversation between Durose and his wife, Marion. “We were talking about the lack of specialist suppliers and our disappointment with our local farm shop. So we decided to do something about it.”
Durose invested £100,000 of savings to convert a run-down antiques shop into The English Grocer. The shop is only 18 miles from Cheshunt, but it seems like a different world. It has a “polished environment” combining wood floors and traditional Welsh dressers with modern glass cabinets. Durose, who runs the shop with his wife, even wears a traditional pinny for full effect.
Like many independents, Durose sources seasonal products as locally as possible. But he has taken his commitment much further than most by asking his customers for help.
A lady in the town makes cakes to sell at the store, which also sells sloe berries and walnuts provided by local residents.
When Durose asked the community for local apples, four-and-a-half-year-old George and his dad came in with a basket of them picked from their garden - giving the business local produce and earning George some pocket money.
The business model is a far cry from Tesco's, where the listing process usually involves in-depth sales forecasts and where products are bought in huge volumes.
The transition from big-box grocer to small retailer has been more of a challenge than anticipated, he admits. “You know starting a business is going to be tough, but I was surprised how hard it has been.”
The main challenge has been the lack of structure. The day-to-day operations at Tesco may have been demanding but the regime had its benefits.
“There was a structured approach, but here I can spend a morning just doing admin. There are more things to distract you,” he says.
“At Tesco we were clear about how we structured our range but it's harder here because I have to decide what to stock and if there's room.”
Experience in a large retailer has had its advantages, too. His knowledge of the supply chain has won him the confidence of suppliers. “You have experience of what can and can't be done,” he says. “We help suppliers with what they can sell.”
Durose is hungry for success and plans to open another store in the next 12 months, followed by more in the future. It won't rival Tesco, he jokes, but there are serious plans to turn The English Grocer into a regional brand.
So is there a chance he may miss his high-flying job? Probably not, he says, but then you never know.
“Do I have any regrets? Ask me in 10 years time.”
Manager Peter Durose
After 10 years at Tesco, most recently as head of fresh produce, the strain of running one of the company's most valuable categories took its toll on Peter Durose - not to mention cutting short the time he could spend at home with his wife Marion and their two young daughters, Grace and Lauren. So, he decided to set up The English Grocer to enable him to work alongside his wife and see his children much more regularly, and offer the residents of Buntingford more locally sourced products from a specialist supplier.