Supporting charitable causes

11 July 2014, 12:39 pm
Town Crier by Justin Tunstall

They come into the shop, usually on a busy Saturday, and join the cheese queue. They don’t look at the cheeses, but have an air of urgency that prompts me to pick up the pace and deal more swiftly with the customers ahead of them. When they get to the head of the line, I smile and start to form a sentence of welcome. They say “We’re having a raffle…”

Lyme Regis is full of volunteer organisations and worthy causes, and during the five years we’ve been open I think we’ve seen them all. Having gained a bit of a profile during that time, it seems that everyone thinks we’re massively successful and good for support via a raffle prize or an auction item.

We can’t do them all and I’ve developed a way of assessing if and what we might be able to do. Obviously if the person asking is a regular customer, that’s a plus point. We have had folk come in, make a negative comment about the smell, say that they buy their Cathedral City up at Tesco and then ask for our help.

If the cause appeals it’s an easy decision, but faced with more requests than we can satisfy we look for some kind of fit between their supporters and our shoppers. We like events that are publicised and which mention the sponsors. We especially like organisations that send thank you letters and let us know how the event went. I treasure the annual letter I get, written in a child’s hand, that tells me how much was raised at the Primary School Fête.

We’ve learned that for raffle prizes, a voucher goes down well – people can choose what they want, nothing gets wasted (it’s not redeemed if the winner is not a fan) and we get a visit to our shop. Auctions are a little different – people like to see what they are bidding for. Sadly, if the event is not well supported, or the organisers have managed to garner an excess of items, then my carefully packed and chosen hamper can go for a mere fraction of its true value. We now place a reserve so that our goods are not undervalued – I’d prefer to give the cause a cheque for the reserve amount and return the non-perishable goods to stock than see an item go for 20% of its true worth.

We don’t want to boast about our charitable activities, but we do want to show our local customers that we are involved in the broader community. One good way of fostering good relationships is through sponsorship. Our first foray into this was with the local gig-rowing club. Sadly, after three months of trying to get to see the items for which we had laid out a few hundred quid, they couldn’t arrange either a viewing or a photo that we could use for publicity. We didn’t renew!

A happier and ongoing deal was struck with the Uplyme & Lyme Regis Cricket Club. We sponsor the team with our logo emblazoned on shirts and caps. We also instigated the ‘sixes cheese’, a cricket ball-sized burgundy waxed Cheddar awarded to the first home player to score 6 at any home game. The crowd love this, and if a ball looks like it’s going over the boundary, the chants of “Cheese, cheese” echo around the pitch. It’s got us coverage in the Cricketer magazine, on Radio 4 Test Match Special and in our ever-supportive local press.

We also sponsor the Morris side, with whom I dance. Our warm-up fleeces (yes, really!) are emblazoned with our logo and the slogan ‘Whey Hey’. We get a bit of stick for that…

More recently we’ve sponsored the local football team, known as the Seasiders. We give cheeses at the player of the month awards and the team are wont to sing ‘Cheese-siders’ throughout the event, on team coaches and on nights out around town. The papers cover the teams’ activity and frequently mention us.

Does it sell a lot more cheese? Not directly, but having our niche and specialist shop in the town’s good books and being recommended to visitors by a broad cross section of locals does generate sales.

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