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For rural cheesemongers like The Courtyard Dairy in Lancashire, the UK’s national lockdown in March 2020 spelled big trouble. With the public told to stay at home and no possibility of passers-by who could pop into their shop, owners Andy and Kathy Swinscoe found their business was suddenly cut off from its customers.
The pair realised that they were at risk of losing the relationship that they’d worked years to build with their local community, and they knew they needed to develop new ways of connecting with their customers.
“Our cheeses are quite unique, and they require a little bit of explaining,” Andy says. “What I really love doing is serving customers.” In the shop, he has a passion for talking cheese with his customers, explaining the ins and outs of different varieties and the stories behind his favourites. “We realised that we wanted to keep up that connection with the customer, and the online cheese tastings allow us to do that.”
By April, just a month after lockdown began, the pair were running cheese tastings via Zoom. By embracing technology they found they could recreate the customer interactions that they were missing in the shop. “We’ve played on what we do really well. What we’re known for is a real specialism of knowledge and for going into real detail, almost being geeky about cheese,” Andy says.
The virtual tastings have now become a huge part of what The Courtyard Dairy does, allowing the business to stay buoyant when footfall into the shop plummeted.
As business picked up in-store over the summer, The Courtyard Dairy found that social distancing was still limiting their business, but instead of resting on their laurels, they found a unique and forward-thinking way to boost their revenues: a cheese vending machine. “We’ve seen them up in Switzerland,” Andy says, “and we’d always wanted to do it, but there was no real need with the cheese shop being so busy.”
The pandemic gave them the perfect opportunity to fulfill the dream. “We decided that it was such a great idea that we wanted to capitalise on.” The cheese vending machine offered The Courtyard Dairy a way of reaching customers who were wary of coming into the shop or who didn’t want to wait in a queue for their cheese, as well as allowing for quicker sales than they could provide in their store. “All those little problems could be ironed out.”
All told, over 2020 The Courtyard Dairy learned that technology could provide exciting new avenues for their retail business. By stabilising sales with these innovations, Andy and Kathy can focus on doing what they love: sharing their passion for cheese.