Inspirational Cheese Retailers 2024: St Giles Cheese

29 April 2024, 07:00 AM
  • Inspirational Cheese Retailers is back for 2024 - celebrating some of Britain's finest cheese retailing specialists. Including St Giles Cheese - Customer Connection
Inspirational Cheese Retailers 2024: St Giles Cheese

The fine food industry is home to a great number of food lovers whose passion at first outweighs their industry expertise and professional prowess, but they often go on to found some of the UK’s most inspiring businesses. Take Steve and Caroline Ward of Northampton’s St Giles Cheese as an example. 

Having returned home to Northampton from a trip to France and missing the delights of the country’s fromagerie and deli scene, the husband-and-wife team decided to set up shop themselves. “It was all set up in a rush during the summer of 2010, with zero food industry experience – we were enthusiastic amateurs at best!” begins Steve. They may have been learning on the job, but that didn’t slow their mission down. “From finding a suitable premises to doors opening took just 12 weeks. We opened on a shoestring budget, in the pit of a global recession in a declining town centre. We were doomed to fail.” Spoiler: they did not. 

A varied clientele

The fine food sector thrives on connections and customer experience, and at St Giles Cheese “it’s all about the personal service,” says Steve. “Over the years we have become friends with many of our customers. Each week, we remember what each of our regulars was up to last week, and what they like or are not fond of – one finds oneself building a mental flavour profile for each of these customers. There then comes a point when you can recommend a cheese without even given a taster, such is that customer’s confidence you’ll pick the right one.”

Steve and Caroline’s attention to detail clearly serves their varied customer base well. “Our customer base is the full spectrum. From teens to octogenarians, working class to landed gentry, those who want white cheese with fruit in (though we only relent to Wensleydale & Cranberry for Christmas) to those looking for Le Gruyere AOP Alpage. Local folks to those who travel some distance to visit.”

Whatever their preference, budget or age, the St Giles Cheese team makes sure to always offer a friendly welcome. “It’s surprising how many shops you can walk in and not get a simple ‘Hello’,” says Steve. Product knowledge allows the team to offer alternatives if the item on a customer’s shopping list isn’t available, plus tastings, recipe suggestions and sharing the background stories of products and their producers “boost confidence and improves the shopping experience,” he explains.

Successful yet humble

While many retailers in Steve and Caroline’s position would open a second site, this is a move that the pair firmly decided against some years ago. “When we finally began to turn a profit, some years, back, we considered opening another shop in one of Northampton’s satellite towns. But a second shop would be a watered-down version of this one with additional staffing headaches,” explains Steve. “We took advice from other businesses who told us it’s very difficult to replicate the original shop and decided against it.”

In this tempestuous time, “each year we’re just grateful to have made it through another one, says Steve. “Every time someone walks through the door and tells us how pleased they are that we are here, or that we are still here, it’s a great boost to a fragile ego but also a confirmation that we’re doing it right.” 

 

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