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For Svetlana Kukharchuk, coming up with a name for her Fife-based shop in 2017 was a no-brainer: the locals had long called her The Cheese Lady thanks to her vast knowledge of all things dairy. But in 2020, the Covid-19 lockdown cut her off from her regulars. Svetlana felt that because of her Cheese Lady persona, she needed a new way to get in front of her customers, and social media proved to be a valuable new avenue for connecting and communicating with her community.
Before the disruption caused by Covid-19, customers always enjoyed coming into the shop to speak to Svetlana and ask her for recommendations and information about her cheeses. Finding a way to recreate that experience online became her main task.
But while Svetlana was used to being the face of her business in the shop, putting her face all over social media was a new challenge. “I felt like I needed to put myself out there, even though I’m very, very shy,” she says. But taking that leap has proved fruitful. By stepping in front of the camera to offer personalised tips and recommendations for her website and social media channels, as well as profiles of every cheese in her shop, she has found a new way to connect with her customers. “I kept thinking: people buy from people. And that’s why I needed to put my face out there, even though it’s hard,” she says.
For new customers, the videos offer a chance to put a face to The Cheese Lady brand. “Maybe they’ve never met me in person, but if I make videos and attach them as product videos for every cheese, I thought maybe they’ll feel more of that same service as they would get in a shop,” she adds. “And that’s why I really started doing it.”
In addition to raising product and brand awareness on her social media accounts, Svetlana moved into the world of online tastings in 2020 – and she hasn’t looked back. “It’s been great, and I feel like now the horizons have expanded for us and we can reach so many more territories across the UK,” Svetlana says.
“Instead of being a very local shop, which we still are, now we can reach audiences further afield.” Online tastings and events have now become a legitimate income stream for the business.
Svetlana credits her customers with inspiring her to push her online business further over 2020: “If it wasn’t for my customers, I probably would have chickened out and closed for a few months and not done anything online. I had huge doubts.
“I thought ‘will people need cheese?’” With no one able to entertain, Svetlana worried that customers would not continue to purchase farmhouse cheeses for their own pleasure. “But it turned out it was so necessary for them. It spurred me on. We were doing a public service, bringing joy to people’s lives. So I carried on and continued, but it was only because of their encouragement and their support, and telling us that we were needed.”
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