As you might expect, there are no formal qualifications required for buying a deli. Working with fresh and pre-cooked food will nevertheless require some specific training.
"We'd recommend to anyone who's going into a deli to do some courses because it's very hard work. You can do an NVQ on retail for example, while environmental health training isn't compulsory but is very useful," advises Linda Farrand of the Guild of Fine Food Retailers.
If money is an obstacle, continues Farrand, you may be able to get some financial support for training. "Certain councils have sums of money allocated to them to enable people to go on courses. One of our members is going on a cheese-retailing course funded by the council. You don't know until you ask." The Food Standards Agency also produces a number of free leaflets the covering the maze of food hygiene regulations.
A food hygiene course will teach you about food storage, labelling and waste management. Gaining the relevant certificate will not only put you in a good light with the local environmental health department, it will also give you confidence in dealing with food and reassure your customers.
Less formal but equally valuable will be food preparation skills and a love of cooking. If you are selling pre-cooked food such as pasta dishes, pastries or sandwiches, you will need to know how to prepare these quickly and efficiently while maintaining high standards of taste and quality. Even the unprepared produce that you sell, such as packaged goods and fresh cheeses and meats, will need to be kept at the highest quality.
Remember that a delicatessen is a store for fine food and your customers will be passionate about the food they buy. If you share this passion and enthusiasm, it will come across in your shop and the products you sell.
Nicola Leeper is co-owner of Bon Gout, a delicatessen based in the St Leonards area of Exeter. "One thing when running a deli is that you should be able to advise your customers what they need to do with the food that they buy. People come in saying "We're having a dinner party - what can we serve?" and it's great to be able to give them suggestions and recipes. It also helps the sales, of course."
Aside from culinary skills, you will also need to learn how to run every aspect of the business, from sourcing suppliers to pricing goods and doing accounts. Any management experience will be useful, but don't worry if you don't know everything before you start. Douglas Pearce, owner of Le Grand Fromage delicatessen in Shoreham-on-Sea, West Sussex, explains.
"I worked in catering management before, at the Cavendish hotel in Eastbourne for example. I learnt about bookkeeping in management, although I've now learnt that it's easier and cheaper to get someone else to do it. Experience in running a business is not crucial. You can get outside help."
A good source of advice will often be the departing owners. When buying a business, try to arrange a hand-over period during which you will be able to shadow the owners and learn about the processes they have developed. Ask them to go through the accounts with you, introduce you to suppliers and staff and explain the machinery.
Steve Turvill of Limoncello found that the owners are not the only people who can help in the early days. "I managed to retain one of the previous members of staff, which gave us some continuity and we built around that," he remembers.
The hand-over period will also provide a valuable opportunity to meet your customers - and how well you interact with these people could be a crucial factor in how your business performs, as Pearce explains.
"The biggest thing is that you need to be a people person. You must be able to talk to the people that come into your shop because in a small business, people come see you as much as to shop."
As a delicatessen you're offering superior food products to supermarkets and as a small business owner you're offering a higher level of customer service than supermarkets. A sociable manner and an enthusiasm for food will help retain existing customers and will also encourage first-timers through the door.
"If you're excited about the food that you sell, that comes across to the customers and it's infective - they get excited about the food that they are going to eat that night," says Nicola Leeper.