“The importance of regulars”

26 June 2019, 10:38 am
Expert Eye by John Shepherd

Vorsprung Durch Technik was a very successful advertising slogan used by Audi in the 1980s.

Frequently repeated on prime time television, the English translation means ‘progress through technology.’ This slogan, it is claimed, helped transform the image, not only of Audi but also of Germany, the nation which following the devastation of the Second World War was becoming increasingly associated with quality, efficiency, progress and technology. Although it was suggested by a British advertising agency, BBH, it was actually based on an old Audi advert that had fallen into obscurity.

Of course, the importance of a slogan rests on the value placed on it by customers. It provides a reassurance of sorts, for example quality, nostalgia or value, and by so doing the brand itself becomes a silent member of staff to encourage customers to purchase. It has become a part of speciality food folklore to acknowledge that everyone has a bottle of Tabasco somewhere in their fridge. Which brings me on to the main point of the article about the importance of regular customers.

A few years before he died in 1999 Sir Dirk Bogarde, the highly regarded actor, became a regular, daily customer at Partridges. He was very much like his screen persona, courteous, charming and the traditional English gentleman – although with a waspish turn of phrase if standards were not as they should be (which regrettably was not as infrequent as one would have liked). Not only did he come in nearly every day but he wrote a complimentary article in our Christmas catalogue for free, contributed to our staff Christmas party fund, referred to us discreetly in his autobiography, A Short Walk from Harrods, attended the leaving party for our manageress at the time, Mrs Mack and kindly referred to us as “THE Grocers”. As a thank you we promoted him to the rank of honorary member of staff, which provided him with the benefit of the 15% staff discount which he did not want but was too polite to decline. In short, he lifted our spirits to a greater extent than shoplifters and difficult customers reduced them. And chose to spend money with us. As have many other delightful customers along the way. Another example: every day four gentleman (of Verona) visit the café and entertain their friends there. These actions serve as a reminder that the regular daily customers are the bread and butter of small food shops.

As I try to remind the staff (ad nauseum), if every regular customer spent £1 more a day this would probably overcome all of the great threats from business rates, rent increases and pilferage in one stroke. Easier said than done, of course. This is basically a slither of cheese or three apples or a litre of milk or a bottle of water or a large croissant. The challenge of the speciality food grocer is to get enough customers through the door and keep them coming back. Sir Dirk opened our eyes to this – if they had not been opened before. We were younger then. The basic warmth of a positive human interaction will never be bettered by a catchy slogan, however helpful. Vorsprung Durch Regulars.

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