How one cheese shop supported locals in lockdown
- Rory Mellis, IJ Mellis: “Local businesses have a chance to flourish”
- Why we should be proud of the cheese industry’s response to Covid
- The joy of cheese grading
- “Keeping the faith”
- “Don’t sway to populists”
After Covid-19 arrived, Gemma Williams of The Little Cheesemonger, realised she would have to bring the cheese to her customers
A year after the start of the first lockdown, my customers, or friends and relatives of my customers, still say to me, “We had a great cheese box delivered to us in lockdown, thank you”. It’s really stuck in the minds of the community; it must have felt like a treat or a special occasion. Something that cheered them when things seemed so uncertain. I’m not going to pretend that I did that out of the goodness of my heart initially, heck no. Just like that Rhuddlan, our little village community, turned into something out of a Wild West movie – all that was missing was the tumble weed.
I had to act quickly. I was fully stocked with cheese with zero footfall and no orders, no weddings or any of my seasonal show events. The ambient goods I wasn’t too worried about as they have a long shelf life, but the cheese had to go ASAP.
I was going to have to get to them – my customers. Something I wasn’t used to doing on a larger scale. I quickly created some exceptional cheese selection offers on my website and offered a 10 mile radius for free local delivery. Closing the shop to customers (not that there were any) had its benefits. I could spend the morning and afternoon making the orders for my new ‘lockdown selection’ then get out and about in the car to deliver them. This also made juggling the childcare for my husband and I easier, not having to stick to shop hours.
Once the cheese mountain had gone there was no urgency, but something else started to happen. Family members of our most loyal customers who are in their twilight years started getting in touch – “Please pop round on Mum with some cheese?” – and I started to realise that it was my duty to not only deliver their order but make sure they seemed well and happy; not just drop and run like an Amazon delivery. A few minutes talking over the fence was nice, but also meant a bit less loneliness and gave me confidence they were doing well. Luckily they all were.
Sometimes after tracking around roads and hills I didn’t know existed, getting lost and thinking I’d spent any profit made that day on fuel, I remembered that the takeaway of my cheese was making someone’s day. One occasion comes to mind: a local charity group for visually impaired ladies who I’ve done cheese tastings for in the past asked me to deliver them all a little hamper. They would meet in the library weekly – they all lived locally but quite scattered across the county. It took me most of the day to get around all their houses. They were delighted by not only being sent a gift but having a visitor, too, and they remembered me from the cheese tasting – you’d have thought I was their long lost friend. I was only able to do this with the government grants; financially it wasn’t profitable.
Each lockdown was slightly different and required different services for the community. I had to adapt my courier service to be more suitable so do the local deliveries myself, but also be able to offer national deliveries, I found a more competitive courier service and did some research on delivery costs. My website, which in previous years I’d felt was a waste of money because it was hardly ever used, was now busy with orders. People were sending gifts locally and nationally. Locals would send over a list of birthdays that needed orders dispatching.
Another drastic change was doing Zoom cheese and wine tastings. They were a blast! ‘Tasting Packs’ were mainly picked up by our local customers we would usually see, but also as far as Cardiff and Scotland. Groups of friends booked us for private Zoom tastings too, and we’d have a non-snobby fun cheese and wine experience.
At Christmas I opened my second premises. Rhuddlan had been too small for some time, but with the added web orders a bigger shop was needed and Rhuddlan could stay open in its strength as a little community shop. I was worried how opening a new shop only 15 minutes away in the car would affect our little community-based shop in Rhuddlan, but the customers still tell us even now about their decision to come in and support us because they want their high street to survive.