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“I don’t think all social media is good,” admits Webb Freckingham of The Cheese Shop Nottingham. He and his brother Rob, who are co-directors, are not ones to over-share details of their breakfasts or passing thoughts online, but for promoting their business, social media has been a lifesaver throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
Webb, also known to locals as Doctor Cheese, takes centre stage in front of the camera for weekly videos on Facebook and Instagram championing the latest cheeses to arrive at the shop. “We decided to do it to say we were open, and to let people know that we were still here,” he explains. Now, the videos have grown into a new way to engage and connect with customers.
“I haven’t got millions of followers. I’m not Jamie Oliver,” says Webb. “I’m not on a personal crusade, I’m just doing it for the real reasons.” For The Cheese Shop Nottingham, the real reasons behind their move into the digital world are the significant numbers of small, struggling cheesemakers around the country and beyond.
“We’ve got to keep banging the drum,” he adds. “We need to help everybody in this if we’re going to get through it.” By using the shop’s social media accounts to boost sales of artisan cheeses, Rob and Webb are helping to ensure the survival of independent, small-scale cheeses.
Customers have been incredibly receptive to The Cheese Shop Nottingham’s pivot to digital. On Facebook, the videos receive dozens of likes, as well as comments and shares, proving them to be a fantastic way to build the shop’s community during the pandemic. “I’m getting people asking me ‘can you mention me?’ They want to be mentioned in my cheese shout out,” Webb says – and he’s all for it. “If you can bring a smile to people’s faces at this time of problem and hassle and grief, it’s got to be a good thing.”
Nottingham’s cheese lovers were also keen to take advantage of the shop’s new website and delivery options, especially as access to the shop was cut off at times in lockdown. The Cheese Shop Nottingham’s website got up and running in May, and although it was already in the works before the pandemic hit, it was perfectly timed for Covid-19. The business offered click and collect services out of their back door – “It was a bit like prohibition: contraband cheese,” says Webb – as well as local and national delivery.
The brothers were surprised to be sending out parcels of cheese around the country – though some of their online business still came courtesy of the shop’s well-established relationship with its customers. For instance, one former Nottingham resident who moved away has still ordered cheese every month since the website has been up. “It’s a win-win situation,” Webb says.
“But I do think it’s about communication as well, and being open.” Keeping an open mind led The Cheese Shop Nottingham into many successful ventures last year, including virtual tastings. Rob and Webb made their first foray into digital events after a company approached them about hosting a wine and cheese evening for their colleagues. “It’s amazing, we sent out 18 cheese hampers for them. That’s come from people seeing the social media,” Webb says.
Rob and Webb are cheesemongers through and through, and that means they love sharing their passion for cheese in the shop – but as their experience in 2020 showed, they can do plenty of good for farmhouse cheese online, too.
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