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While independents across the UK strive – and succeed – in establishing a family feel to their shops, for Cheshire-based Godfrey C Williams & Son it’s an integral part of the business’s framework. The company was established in 1875 by Thomas Williams, who collected local farmhouse cheeses to sell in the shop; his son Griffith later took the helm before his own son, Godfrey, opened his eponymous shop in 1957.
Local food and drink producers have long been championed at the shop, and customers have always been treated like an extension of its founding family, but current project manager – and great, great grandson of Thomas Williams – Daniel Williams says that the role of family goes even deeper than that.
“Family is central to our beginnings, our story, and our future,” he says. “It’s key in decision-making, a source of knowledge and advice, and as a support network.” Of course, working in such close proximity to loved ones isn’t always smooth sailing. “It’s not without its challenges, but the rewards of working with family certainly outweigh these,” he continues.
When the world plunged into lockdown as a result of the outbreak of Covid-19 in March 2020, the thoughts of the team at Godfrey C Williams & Son immediately turned to their customers.
“We have close relationships with many of them, so it was only natural to put them first,” says Daniel. The team came up with practical solutions to make the suddenly challenging situation as pain-free as possible for their customers: “We deliberately set out minimum spend to quite a low amount, to remove any barriers to entry. We also sourced items that we don’t usually stock, such as postage stamps, newspapers, fuses and lightbulbs.”
Godfrey C Williams & Son also rallied with local businesses – such as the butcher and greengrocer – to provide joint deliveries. For all these efforts, the team found that it was often the most simple part of the process – a smiling face – that made their service all the more valuable to their customers: “Sometimes it was something as small as a friendly doorstep conversation that had the most powerful difference to someone’s lockdown,” Daniel states.
Connection is at the heart of what Godfrey C Williams & Son stands for, and knows no bounds in terms of who is welcomed into the fold. “I would say our sense of family extends to not just to our customers and staff, but our suppliers too.” The team makes a special effort to forge relationships – “forget trade fairs or sales calls, some of the best conversations about cheese and the industry can be had in the kitchen of a cheesemaker’s farmhouse” – and is proud to have maintained relationships which have lasted for decades, with some transcending generations in both the Williams family and that of the cheesemaker.