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Fine food retailers are known for their excellent customer service – alongside shelves packed with brilliant products, of course. This means they’re in a strong position to build a devoted customer base.
In fact, they’ve proved their adaptability and determination over the pandemic and the new normal, and with demand for local food and drink and service-based experiences rising, it seems exciting times are ahead for the industry.
Discover four tips that indie retailers can use to improve their services and boost customer loyalty.
Word of mouth
It’s the age-old method. A happy customer will share their experience with others, and people don’t trust businesses, they trust people. Therefore, it is crucially important that shoppers have such a positive experience in your store that they want to recommend it to their peers.
As Laura Roberts, owner of Laura’s Larder, explained, “I’m still learning here and will be all the time. But all I can say without hesitation is the best way to grow a business like ours is through recommendation. Someone bringing their parent, their cousin, or their friend to the store. Sharing some food at their home and saying where it’s from, with a smile.
“But to be part of that recommendation you need to be the best you can be every day to make sure you’re spoken about well, and not badly. There’s no magic answer to this. It’s the positive result of hard work and focusing on the detail.”
Focus on local
Local, artisan food products have seen an exciting boost during the Covid-19 pandemic and the arrival of Brexit as consumer demand for food and drink with provenance rose. After all, indies should remember that local produce carries a certain appeal.
One area where this is particularly true is cheese. As Jen Grimstone-Jones, co-owner of Cheese Etc, The Pangbourne Cheese Shop, explained, “People want to support local first and then British, which is just so fantastic. We saw this trend before Brexit and it has just continued at pace since.”
This focus on localism is also felt by Oli Smith, owner of The Bristol Cheesemonger, who told Speciality Food, “Two of the most frequently asked questions in our shop are: ‘What are your most local cheeses?’ and ‘What do you have that I can’t buy anywhere else?’.
“Our biggest selling cheeses are therefore the ones where we have the closest relationship with the producers; our own hand-selected Westcombe Cheddar, our Sparkenhoe Blue, (for example) as well as those really small production cheeses that are made within 45 minutes or so of the shop: Baronet, The Wandering Ewe and so on.”
Stocking hyper-local products gives indies the advantage over the multiples. As Owen Davies, owner of Ty Caws, explained, “British cheese can bring so much interest into any independent retailer and there are many British cheeses unavailable within the large retail market.”
It is this appeal that results in repeat custom. As Simon Jones, co-owner of Forest Deli, explained, “We sell local milk, local eggs, locally roasted coffee etc. that people come in a couple of times a week to buy. That keeps them coming in regularly and they will often buy some extras or start to come in at the weekend to get some cheeses.”
Communication is key
Part of the difficulty of growing your customer base is turning shoppers into regulars. Of course, quality products with well-curated stories will sell well, but they require a friendly shop assistant to communicate the appeal.
According to Laura, the key is “Offering a personalised service in-store, remembering who people are and what they like, being nice, going the extra mile – all just so obvious, but totally necessary. I have the bonus of loving what I do, which helps. And if you get something wrong, ‘fess up, don’t blame someone else, because people appreciate honesty.”
Simon agreed, “Learning customer names, remembering their children’s or dogs’ names so you can have a little extra chat over and above the transactional part of the visit always goes down well. We will also almost always order specific cheese in if someone asks for it which also means we find new cheeses as well.
It is interactions like these that differentiate independent retail from the multiples, and therefore engaging in active communication with your customers will keep them coming back. After all, everyone likes to feel special, so taking the time to chat with your shoppers, whether it’s over the counter, amongst the freshly picked vegetables, or at the till, will make all the difference.
According to new research from Ordnance Survey, high streets and shopping areas appear to be evolving into more service and hospitality-based venues. Despite the restrictions of lockdowns and social distancing rules, eating and drinking establishments saw growth of almost 4% between 2020 and 2022. In fact, 2,000 more cafés and tea rooms were operating after the Covid-19 pandemic then before.
With this trend towards more service-based offerings changing the way shoppers use the high street, finding a way to adapt to this could see your customer base increase.
According to Simon, “One of the best ways of attracting new customers is tasting events – we hold regular tasting sessions in the shop in our Tasting Corner. Running cheese and wine events in local pubs and restaurants are also very popular, and talks to community groups like the WI or village halls are always well received, and do result in new customers coming in.”