Retailer Opinion: The Relationship Building Blocks

As non-essential retailers prepare to re-open, David Robertson of JP Pozzi shares his heartfelt views on how indies have little need to worry on the relationship front.

“I have always said that the great leveller in shopping is how you look after and build a relationship with your customer…

Does that matter? Is it only price? Well in my column in the new edition of PG I explore all this and more (click here).

When asked on a recent podcast I was involved in, how we as independent retailers can compete with the online behemoths, my answer was quite simply “Amazon or Ebay can’t ask how you are? or at least not with any sincerity”…and I stand by that.

Above: Just one customer’s batch of cards, bought from David during lockdown.
Above: Just one customer’s batch of cards, bought from David during lockdown.

Perhaps at this precise minute with so many shop doors still locked and with so many indies scrabbling for sales via their new websites or virtual shop tours, an indie’s USP is rather hampered.  That said the willingness of my fellow card and gift retailers to help serve their tribe of customers and the resourcefulness in managing some sales has been very incredibly impressive.

Usually though when times are more ‘normal’ great service will always encourage repeat custom especially in the greeting card world and it is interesting how online platforms such as Thortful has been keen to encourage this. Indeed, I got an e-mail from the online retailer only yesterday asking how I was!

I know many stores large and small are worried as these last few weeks have forced people to buy more and more cards from supermarkets or online. The feedback I have received though is that people want and prefer the choice and service from a local/specialised card shop.

Above: David, outside JP Pozzi.
Above: David, outside JP Pozzi.

As we emerge, hopefully sooner rather than later from lockdown (Scotland still does not have an open date for non-essential retailers) indie card retailers will have more than ‘just a place’ in the new normal as the ‘big boys’ will not fully immerse themselves in the niche markets that we do. Many of you will be used to fielding customer requests for more and more obscure card titles and we will often be asked to read verses or recommend cards. I can’t see the staff of a supermarket writing cards for people – and we do that for all kinds of reasons, from ill health to poor handwriting and I know many of you do this as well.

The last few weeks have thrown up many one-off situations, but I wanted to highlight one story which is sad yet touching at the same time.

Every Monday our smaller card shop was graced with the presence of an elderly lady customer, Mrs Coull who would come in to see Elma, our shop assistant, armed with a list of her card needs. As a granny to eight and a great granny to many more, she always had a birthday or some other life event to celebrate by sending a card.

A few months ago she came in with a special request. It was for a card for her husband for their 65th wedding anniversary. Despite a vast array across many brands we could not fulfil her need on this specific title, but undeterred Elma created a 65th wedding anniversary husband card by adorning it with various stickers and the lady left absolutely delighted.

Above: As part of his commitment to the community, David has sent out cards and gifts to many frontline workers.
Above: As part of his commitment to the community, David has sent out cards and gifts to many frontline workers.

Unusually, the next Monday the lady didn’t come in, but a week later another lady came in with a list in hand asking for Elma by name. She was the lady’s daughter who explained that her dad had died two days after their wedding anniversary and her mum needed cards, but was too upset to come out hence she was there asking for Elma’s help with the list.

Elma helped pick the cards knowing the lady’s budget and tastes pretty well after the many years of this special relationship. As the weeks passed, Mrs Coull resumed her Monday card buying trips to see Elma. Chatting about life and coping with her loss to Elma was part of this lady’s routine and sending cards was also a hugely important part of her life.

Sadly, not that long before lockdown and only a few months after her husband, Mrs Coull passed away.

Elma and her colleagues sent a card to the family from us, recognising how so many customers become friends.

This is just one story of one customer in one of our shops – but there are many others, and reflecting on these is part of what I have taken comfort in over these many weeks of lockdown.

Above: Preparing for the new normal, card spinners where there were once tables and chairs in David’s Bijou shop which has a café area.
Above: Preparing for the new normal, card spinners where there were once tables and chairs in David’s Bijou shop which has a café area.

Manning our newsagents shop throughout all of this, speaking to people every day, hearing their stories (both funny and sad) I see how much a local business such as ours means to them and I see also how much the appropriate card means to them in their relationships.

While this time is horrendous and as many of you prepare to re-open please never lose sight of this. It is not just a card and you are not just a shop. You are part of the fabric of your towns and cities and we will all help to rebuild our sector together.”

David Robertson loves feedback. Contact him on jppozzzi@me.com

Top: David Robertson, co-owner of JP Pozzi.

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