As Facebook and other social media platforms increasingly become part of consumers’ daily lives, independent retailers are letting their store’s personalities shine beyond the sales pitch.
More and more independent retailers are introducing customers to staff, highlighting employees’ favorite recipes and hidden talents. It is an extension of the marketing tool of cross promotion: taking the pitch beyond the product and into the store.
One of the finer practitioners of the art is Chicago store The Chopping Block, which has introduced a new feature to its blog on Facebook called “Food Comics.” It is illustrated and written by staffer Tom O’Brien, who the blog (called The Chopping Blog) refers to “as our resident cartoonist.” He gently teaches readers to cook—for example, how to poach an egg— through illustrations and clear instructions.
In addition to a savvy cooking lesson, readers are subtly introduced to a host of cooking equipment that is readily available at the store. In the cartoon “How to Poach an Egg,” at least eight products ranging from a slotted spoon to several pans, plus a digital thermometer and a measuring cup, were easily spotted. That cartoon was then followed by a video clip of Chopping Block owner Shelley Young poaching an egg. Young points out the benefits of the “nice wide pan” and the slotted spoon she uses during the segment and explains why the tools are important to the process.
Should more information be needed, the retailer follows up the video segment by promoting one of its upcoming cooking classes called “Bloody Mary Brunch,” which features (you guessed it) poached eggs. Finally, The Chopping Block promotes the blog with subscription information, making it easy for readers to sign up. All in all, the store’s products, friendly staff and cooking school programs are handily cross promoted.
“With the abundance and availability of recipes online today, it is very important that our customers see The Chopping Block as a cooking authority, and know they can trust the recipes we publish,” says Andrea Miller, the retailer’s marketing manager. “We use our blog as a platform for many different team members—chefs, assistants, retail concierges, etc.— to share their cooking adventures.”
She adds that often recipes are shared from The Chopping Block’s popular cooking classes, so readers can get a taste of what a class has to offer. “By cross promoting our blog via our social channels, we’re extending that reach beyond just our blog subscribers,” Miller says.
Over on Instagram, Bath, Maine, retailer A Cook’s Emporium shows off owner Mike Fear’s bread-baking handiwork in a post with the explanation, “Mike used an #emilehenry chicken roaster and potato pot to make these loaves,” thereby introducing both Fear, his love of cooking and the Emile Henry product line to the Instagram audience.
Fear has also plugged favorite cooking shows like “A Chef’s Table” as a “must watch for anyone who loves food.” The posts demonstrate Fear’s skill and interest as a cook, underscoring his expertise as a source for cookware. “I take a lot of products home just to mess around with,” he says.
Up in St. Joseph, Mich., Forte Coffee co-owner Brian Maynard boosts his talented baristas by posting images of their alluring latte art on Instagram. When one barista made it to a latte art competition, the store’s Instagram site cheered her on, and customers reacted to the posts.
Did using social media to introduce staff help personalize Forte to its customers?
“I don’t have a definitive answer,” says Maynard, “but it appears they like ‘knowing’ the staff. Customers comment when in the shop about the baristas and what was said on Instagram.”
Retailers also connect to customers in that age-old path to friendship—by sharing recipes and food tips—although in a very new way via social media. Pittsburgh’s In The Kitchen posts cooking tips “Do you roll or fold your omelet?” and adds a recipe for lemon macarons to its recipe box on the store’s website.
In The Kitchen owner KC Lapiana, when sharing a recipe for Cacio e Pepe on Instagram, also shares the personal fact that the dish is “one of our favorite weeknight meals.” In that post, Lapiana reveals that she “ate this six nights in a row in Italy at six different restaurants,” she says. “It was amazing at each one.”
Stock Culinary Goods in Providence, R.I., shows off its focus on local, Rhode Island-made products via Instagram posts, as does Stillwater, OK-based Murphy’s Department Store with a line of Oklahoma-made Sweet Heat Pickles.
When Stock Culinary Goods owner Jan Dane reads Instagram comments from a customer searching for a certain spice blend (Ocean State Pepper blend), she promises “to hoard some for you” and spills on where it can be found: “the Patel Market in Attleboro.” Dane posts an image of a dinner she cooked of halloumi cheese liberally sprinkled with Ocean State Pepper to seal the deal. Dane notes, “We are a neighborhood cooking store, not a boutique store. We want to have everything for everyone.”
In addition to promoting products, personal posts also set a friendly tone for the stores, says Mike Liss, co-owner of The Common Housefly, in Black Mountain, N.C. Liss posts recipes via his website and Facebook page.
“I get a lot of good consumer feedback from sharing the recipes,” he says. A former marketing professional, Liss says the recipe swap with customers helps balance the store’s selling pitches.
“From a marketing perspective if you are going to be sending out email you want it to be informational and promotional, but you want to have the ratio be more informational,” he notes. “It keeps people reading your stuff. If you only try to sell them things, customers are going to turn off.”