Friday, 25 November 2011

Stall let down

Everywhere I look, I read the unhappy tales of our home grown producers and suppliers here in the UK. The price wars of the major out-of-town supermarkets have milked footfall from our town centres and this, combined with consumers looking for perfect produce available at all times of the day and night, has threatened many small businesses.

Normally, I’m a vocal advocate of small local businesses. As a consumer, I would rather put my money into a small business that will appreciate the income and will be more likely to feed this back into the surrounding community than a huge faceless corporation. Plus, the produce tends to top-notch because the owners take pride in providing great food and the whole buying process is more personal and friendly. I love becoming a “regular”; you get lots of insider information, tailored recommendations (much better than Amazon!) and a big smile to boot.

I’ve recently started a new job in London and, naturally, I set out during my first week to explore the foodie haunts local to my base in Westminster. I was overjoyed to discover the hustle and bustle of Strutton Ground, just minutes from my office, where the maze of Eat and Pret outlets morph into one-off bakeries and stalls groaning with clothes, hot meals and coffee. I was in my element!

I was especially pleased to find a small grocers stall with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. I couldn’t resist buying a bag of figs and some late raspberries to go with my post-cycle breakfasts during the rest of the week. Happily rustling my paper bag of treats, I returned to the office with a smile on my face. Unfortunately, my smile quickly faded the next day when I discovered that my beautifully ripe figs had gone bad in less than 24 hours. I opened them up to find that they were rotten from the core – what a waste! The raspberries were better but were right on the cusp of being over-ripe and some were specked with mould. What a waste!

And herein lies the problem. This might have been bad luck. The stall may be a pillar of quality most of time and may have lots of regular custom. However in my mind, in these hard times every company needs to up their game. I know many consumers who, after my experiences, wouldn’t return. They wouldn’t bother to go back and let the seller know (which I will be – feedback is important) as they’re busy people. They’ll use it as another reason to by-pass their local suppliers in favour of schlepping to the nearest Tesco because you know where you are with the big four. It frustrates me that companies are wasting such a prime opportunity to make a great first impression.

You may say that this is simply natural selection in the business world. If a company doesn’t do what they do well, they won’t survive. And I would agree with you but I would appeal to the small business owners out there – please take note. It genuinely amazes me how many shops - both big and small - seem to get the simple things wrong. If you want to survive in these hard times, you need to up your game! Take pride in your produce, be friendly and offer useful advice – these are simple things that will keep people coming back.

Do you prefer swinging your basket around your local market or filling your trolley at your local supermarket? Do you have any thoughts on your local shops to share?

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