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An important factor for success as an independent is to build solid relationships with your customers so that they become regulars and make repeat purchases again and again. We spoke to cheese experts Fraser MacLellan, founder of Froth and Rind, and Webb Freckington, co-founder of The Cheese Shop Nottingham to find out how they interact with their customers to build positive relationships.
A personal touch
Webb Freckington, co-owner of The Cheese Shop Nottingham recommends treating your customers as friends and trying to make them feel warm and wanted. “I believe that’s the key to it, not a lot of people like shopping anyway so if you can make it more friendly, happy and cheerful people will always come back because they like a smiley face. They don’t want someone that’s miserable! Offer them samples, that’s always the best way. And if we get a new cheese in, we talk about it, champion it, and give them a taste. That’s the way forward.”
Allowing your customers to taste your products is something Fraser MacLellan, owner of Froth and Rind also champions, as it enables you to build a relationship based on their likes and dislikes as he says “Getting to know your customers and their tastes really helps.”
“We always engage with the customers, offer tastings or make recommendations based on what information they give us. Over time we can use this to make more tailored suggestions and serve them cheese we’re comfortable they’ll enjoy. In doing this, the customer learns to trust us and our suggestions as they’ve had good experiences in the past. We also like to give them an extra cheese for free at times, especially if it’s one that they might enjoy but we’re not 100% sure or it’s perhaps a little outside of their regular choices. This gives them a chance to try new cheeses without it costing them.”
Getting your customers excited
Once you’ve got customers through the door, the next step is to get them engaged and excited about your cheese selection.
Webb recommends keeping your customers involved with things going on in your shop: “If you’ve got a cheese in for a week do a ‘cheese of the week’. People look at it and say, ‘Ooh what’s the cheese of the week?’ It might not to be to everyone’s taste, but nine times out of 10 if you’ve come to a cheese shop it’s because you love cheese, so half the battle is already won. So, we give them a taste and hopefully they take it on board and that’s how we go forward.”
“We have a core range of cheeses, but about 20% of our counter regularly changes and we love getting in cheese from smaller suppliers that our customers may not have tried”, Fraser describes. “Anything a bit different always catches the eye and builds interest. We’ve found that pairing cheese with some of the drinks we sell is a great way of generating excitement, especially if those pairings are a little off the wall. We’re constantly trying cheeses with beer, wine, rum, gin and more and we’ve come up with some really quirky pairings that are really good.”
Using social media to build interest
Social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter can be used to help build rapport with your customers and also spark interest to entice them to pop in and see your offerings.
According to Webb, “Social media can be a big help but it can also be a hindrance. But it helps because it’s free, so it’s a free advertising stream and a lot of people if they like you and follow you, they see new products and see stuff that you’ve got in. So, they’ll say ‘Ooh I saw on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter that cheese you were talking about – what was it?’ So, it does spark interest.”
Fraser mirrored these thoughts, explaining: “We do a lot of different things on social media to keep our customers aware of what’s going on. We have our products on there, especially new ones, but we find that a more personal touch really drives interest. Posts like ‘meet the team’ or our Christmas videos have really driven a lot of interest and let our customers see a slightly different side to us than the usual face behind the counter. We also get customers involved in helping us choose new products or menu items via social media and that has generated a lot of interest too.”
Why relationships are so important
Webb described why having a rapport with customers and having conversations about your products is essential to independent success: “All the supermarkets are taking out their meat counters, cheese counters, deli counters, there’s no fishmonger anymore. We win in that sense because we’ve got the knowledge, we’ve got skill, we can talk to customers about the products, we can suggest things, whereas if you go to a supermarket or big retailer you can’t get that – everything is pre-packed on the shelf. You’ve got to have a certain level of knowledge and skill to sell it from a fresh counter but anybody can put an item on the shelf pre-packed out of a box.”
As Fraser puts it, “Relationships are what keep independents going. There’s so much competition out there, whether it’s supermarkets, online, or larger chains, the relationship and the personal touch is the main USP for an independent so it’s vital to build on that and use that to keep the customers happy. There’s always somewhere else to shop so it’s important to make the customer want to come to you.”