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Pivoting a business in the middle of a pandemic is no mean feat, but La Fromagerie’s digital makeover has appeared effortless. An early start has paid dividends for the London-based cheesemonger, which jumped into action as soon as the whispers began about a new flu-like virus that was spreading around the world.
Back in February 2020, La Fromagerie was already making plans for how the business would evolve when the virus arrived in the UK. “We started upscaling online,” says founder Patricia Michelson. “And with that came virtual tutorials because we do so many events, talks and tastings in the shop.”
Virtual events have been a boon to La Fromagerie as footfall fell and in-store tastings became impossible. “It’s been a marvelous doorway to our business for people to see us virtually,” Patricia says.
Having come in early to the virtual events world, Patricia wasn’t sure quite what to expect – but the digital side of the business took off without a hitch. Bookings stacked up for customers scattered all around the UK who were keen to try something new in lockdown.
La Fromagerie also made the most of the home-cooking trend by offering virtual cook-alongs with head chef Alessandro Grano. Patricia says the digital opportunities are “fantastic” for the business. “We’ve really reinvented how La Fromagerie works without losing any of who we are,” she says.
Virtual events also offered La Fromagerie the chance to bring its inimitable stock of European cheeses to customers in a new and much more personal way, by featuring cheese experts and makers on screen – from Romain Olivier, who runs the renowned cheesemonger Philippe Olivier in France to Enric Canut, who Patricia called the “godfather of Spanish cheese”. “To be able to bring those people into the tutorial is really special,” Patricia says.
Interactive events have opened the door to a new way of serving customers far outside the usual London remit, and Patricia sees this becoming a permanent part of the business. “The ‘new normal’ is going to be different to before. People are going to work more from home. They’re not going to come into the city so much,” Patricia says. “And we’ve got to see how we can fit into that as well.”
1. Choose a subject that you know about. Think of four or five cheeses that go well together. Pick cheeses that can be talked through in a progression of flavor and texture and have nice stories.
2. Plan the unboxing. In your head, go through how you want the customer to open that box. Make sure your cheese is nicely wrapped, and include tasting notes, as well as notes on how to look after your cheese.
3. Set housekeeping rules. When you dial in, introduce yourself and a few little housekeeping tips, like ‘turn off your microphone when I’m talking, and when you want to ask a question, either put your hand up or put a message in the box’.
4. Run a practice session. Stopping and starting and umming and ahhing does not go well in tutorials. You’ve got to know your subject and your cheese inside out. Detailed preparation, good notes, and then you’re off!
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