17 April 2020, 10:14 AM
  • Following the news that the UK government has extended the lockdown for another three weeks, fine food and drink businesses are continuing to ride the storm, proving that adapting their services and strategies is key to survival, says Rachael Perrett
How independent retailers are using the Corona crisis to their advantage

“We’ll have a community event when this is all over!”
Teesdale Cheesemakers has established a drive-thru that’s going from strength to strength, and it looks like it could have long-lasting effects, too: “People are really supporting us and are returning, which is always a good sign,” says co-owner Allison Raper.  “We’ve expanded the range now to include other dairy products, fruit and veg, wine and beer, as well as treats like puddings, cakes and crisps. This could change the shape of our café shop in the future.”

Whilst like many retailers, supply is sometimes an issue – Allison notes flour and pasta as tricky ingredients to keep in stock – the brand is still managing same-day delivery where possible:  “We’re able to get supplies of most ingredients, and having worked on the markets for four years, we know a lot of good producers. We even delivered a gift box of cheese as a present, which was lovely!”

But most of all, Allison reflects on the sense of community spirit amidst all the uncertainty, which no doubt is a driving force for Teesdale Cheesemakers to continue its efforts in supporting producers and customers alike.

“The community has been incredibly supportive of us, and really wants the business to survive, which is very touching. More importantly, early on we made a call out and now have about a dozen volunteers ready to help anyone who needs anything: prescriptions collecting, dogs walking or even just a call to beat off the boredom. We’re getting to know our locals, and it feels like everyone is pulling together. I think we’ll have a community event when this is all over!”

“I am proud of the way my team has adapted”
Being a small business no doubt comes with challenges, but it also has its advantages, particularly at a time like this. For White House Farm, a family-run business with an open-plan farm shop, butchery and café, the team was able to implement changes from the get-go.

“Right at the start, we installed a hand-washing sink and a safe queuing system, because we had the luxury of space,” Charlotte Gurney of White House Farm, said. “We made the decision to close the business to the public almost immediately, with the view to looking after our staff and leading the way by offering a safe shopping experience in the area when the thought of the supermarkets became too much to bear. We instigated an online ordering system, boxes were packed by our team inside the shop, payment was taken over the phone and the box delivered to ten meters from the customer’s car. We’re still operating this system and it’s working really well.

“Our sales have not been without strain and some serious ingenuity as we redesigned the way the business worked almost overnight. We’re only weeks into this crisis and we’re pleased with the number of orders, but are only too well aware that as the crisis lessens, new customers may well drift back to the supermarkets.

“On a positive note, we have kept our long-standing suppliers like the local dairy in business. As our café normally gets through litres of milk a week, my initial worry was that they would no longer have an outlet. There is no doubt that the safety measures we have taken have stood us in good stead, increased sales, and generated a good deal of local PR.”

“Our social media pages have charted our journey with engaging and, where possible, positive, posts. In return, the wave of support has been overwhelming as people show their gratitude at being able to continue to shop with us. We have been thankful that customers have appreciated our strict safety measures and have enjoyed their weekly outing to the farm.”

It’s not just the customers who have to adapt to new ways of doing things, though.

“Staff have found that they’re no longer making sandwiches or waiting on tables but are now packing boxes and taking payments over the phone, but I am proud of the way they have adapted and worked together as a team.”

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