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The demand for online retail is showing no signs of slowing down – ably assisted by the Covid-19 pandemic – but one retailer is standing firm against the tide, and vowing to uphold the indie USP of providing excellent customer service to consumers. While Bill De La Hey, owner of Mainstreet Trading in St Boswells on the Scottish Borders, has developed his online presence in the wake of Covid, his passion for more direct connection between his customers and the produce he sells rings through.
His retail empire is based in an old department store, which Bill describes as “an amazing site in the middle of nowhere”. This location means that shoppers travel to the establishment more often than not, and so it’s imperative for the team to provide them with a “treat” of an experience.
A big part of the retail magic that Bill and his team share with customers is passion. He is hugely inspired by the love within the cheese industry and the collaboration between cheesemakers and mongers, and is sure to pass this onto his customers. “I have a lot to say about cheese!” says Bill.
A childhood spent on farmland imbued Bill with a high regard for the work that goes on behind the scenes at cheese-producing farms. “My grandmother was a dairy farmer when I was growing up in Somerset, so I grew up going to The Bath & West Show and tasting all the cheeses,” he says. “When I set up a cheese counter of my own, it was important to me that I support the cheesemakers from the area where I grew up, so Montgomery’s Cheddar had to be on my shelves!”
While a number of independent retailers took to the internet to secure their businesses as a result of the challenging market conditions in 2020, Bill’s approach was considered and tailored to what he and his team do best. “When the first lockdown hit we sat down and considered what our next steps would be. We do have an online store, but so much of what we do is engaging with customers, telling them the stories behind the cheeses we sell and connecting them to the produce, that we didn’t want that to suffer through only selling cheese online.”
The business established cheese boxes, French and Spanish-themed ones as well as British, but chose to offer these on a click-and-collect basis, so that the connection would not be lost.
“Covid forced our hand so we had to evolve to do more online,” says Bill, but the invaluable service that Mainstreet Trading offers was not to be sacrificed. “For some of our customers who would come to collect their cheese boxes, it was the first time they would have left their houses in weeks so it needed to be special.” The shop’s fine quality produce brings a certain treat element to proceedings, but Bill wanted to give shoppers a real reason to get out into the fresh air for a positive retail trip.
“It’s all about quality of product, and we most enjoy being evangelical about the product in person and catering for the people looking for a positive shopping experience,” he says. “The pandemic has brought all of this to the fore – people are being more discerning about the food they’re buying, and are desperately trying to find cheer where they can.”
“I had planned to up the business’s green credentials in 2020,” says Bill, “but the pandemic scuppered my plans to minimise our plastic usage and so on, so I decided to make it my mission to support environmental cheesemakers and producers instead.’ This detour is a natural fit for Mainstreet Trading, giving the team an extra impetus to engage with the specialist cheese industry – not to mention a boon for their customers.
Bill hopes to pick up where he left off this year, while continuing to support the small rural cheesemakers he so resonates with. “Also, we used to host Neal’s Yard Dairy and Mons for tasting sessions in our shop, I’m looking forward to welcoming them back when I can,” says Bill.
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