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As a cheesemonger, your role in the food industry is that of an educator – an expert to connect the consumer with the producer and even farmer – so the methods you use to convey information is key. The two cornerstones to successful communication are labelling and staff training, and with thorough preparation of both you’ll be well on your way to boosting your cheese counter sales.
Labels are a key part of the communication element of selling – with staff understanding interaction with customers, of course, another. A spokesperson for the cheese counter at Selfridges’s flagship Oxford Street store advised that, “Cheesemongers should have good knowledge on the flavour profiles of the cheeses in their counter as a minimum. Technical knowledge is also important, but most customer requests are based on flavours and textures, e.g. “Ineed a mild goats milk cheese’, or ‘I’d like a creamy blue’.” When it comes to corresponding customer conversation patterns with counter display, the spokesperson advises: “We prefer to display by type rather than country, this helps if a customer just wants a specific type of cheese.”
The position and promotion you give each cheese in your counter will depend on its individual personality. For example, at Gonalston Farm Shop, director Georgie Mason explains, Stilton needs no introduction. “All our local Stiltons have a lot to say from their size and the space given to them in the counter. They are our regional best-sellers and ooze display in their own right – they are always displayed towards the end of the counter because they are so well known they don’t need much in the way of ‘eye level is buy level’.” Compare this to smaller sheep cheeses, though, also locally produced, and Georgie says that they need to be “under the nose of our customers to get past their difference and higher price.” Plus, they require more effort from selling staff, who need to spend more time talking about and offering tastings of them than is necessary for well-known cheeses like Stilton.
Justin Tunstall, advisor and consultant, agrees that it’s worth putting in the time to really push a great under-the-radar cheese. “Cheeses of the month (often on a special price from the wholesaler) can merit a flyer with the full story: tasting notes and the cheese’s provenance,” he says, going on to suggest that a layer of personality can add a certain je ne sais quois to the sale: “Counter labels can convey more than just price and the name of the cheese – the type of milk, pasteurization and organic status are common on labels, but I found that I could include a line of ‘colour - perhaps an interesting fact about the cheese, or just my opinion of it – without downsizing to an unreadable type size.”
Katrina Kollegaeva, food anthropologist, suggests that the rich variation and histories behind the cheeses you stock could allow for customers’ imaginations to roam. She says, “Such rich ambiguity is a fertile terrain for your consumers to create their own little worlds, where the cheesemonger becomes a guide into the enchanted world of fermented milks and moulds,” and suggests that by allowing the customer to make connections between the cheeses they’re tasting and their own memories and experiences, you can build a deeper appreciation for the products.”
For Gonalston’s Georgie, the key to strong sales lies in taking the time to recognise the customer experience and adapt your displays and techniques accordingly. “I explain to the team that we must look through the eyes of the customer,” she says. “Is our message to them through display clear and beautiful or is it muddled and confusing?” Being succinct and personality-full is key: “Cheese labels and tickets must be 100% legible clear and concise, if our Brillat Saverin cheese is the creamiest most sinful cheese in the counter, we shout about it. This is a deal breaker for some customers but a reason to get excited for others.”
Once you’ve trained your staff on the intricacies of the cheeses you stock, as well as perfected the art of labelling, “Don’t forget to inspect each cheese on display on a daily basis,” advises Dan Bliss, store manager at Paxton & Whitfield’s flagship Jermyn Street shop in London. “It enables you to check that all your labels are in place – it’s amazing how many cheese labels disappear during the day!”
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