March 13/20, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 20
By Steven Feldman
There is a famous cheese store in my town. Well, famous to the people who live in the area or who used to live there. Now, what does cheese have to do with flooring? Absolutely nothing. And potentially everything. Retail is retail, and there are lessons to be learned wherever you seek them.
First, a little background. The Cheese Store opened in 1977. I’m sure many of you can identify being in business 40 years or longer. It was started by a man named Lou and is now run by his son. Second-generation ownership. Many of you can identify with that as well.
Back then it sold mostly cheese and nuts. Just like you once sold only carpet and vinyl. As time passed, The Cheese Store tried to diversify into other products such as oat bran bagels, fat-free cheeses and many specialty dietary products. Sort of like how you diversified over time into hardwood, ceramic tile and WPC.
The Cheese Store basically became a gourmet food store. In other words, selling things you could get somewhere else much less expensively. (No private labels like many of you have.) But they never changed their name, so the only people who bought these items were the people who were already in the store buying, yes, cheese. Sort of like how you have lost sales over the years because you didn’t evolve and only marketed yourself as Joe’s Carpet.
Then The Cheese Store hit the first of two home runs. It began selling naturally flavored varieties of iced coffee, and its popularity exploded. It became its most popular item. I’m sure that has happened to you over the years. Do I hear Stainmaster, anyone?
Its second home run was a product called hoop cheese. It was marketed as being low in fat, carbs, salt, etc. In essence, it was a dry cottage cheese. When you were a child your grandmother called it pot cheese. But no one buys pot cheese. Just like no one would ever order Patagonian toothfish in a restaurant, but Chilean Sea Bass is ordered as the day is long.
The hoop cheese was served in a plastic bowl. You could have it with raw vegetables, craisins, chick peas, you name it. There were all kinds of seasonings from red pepper flakes to a salt/pepper concoction. There was actually a hoop cheese bar.
The hoop cheese became the store’s go-to product. After all, who drinks iced coffee in the winter months? People crossed multiple town lines to get their hoop cheese. They’d come from far and wide. The Cheese Store was selling 600 pounds of hoop cheese a week.
And then it all came to a screeching halt.
The company that was supplying the hoop cheese was purchased by a conglomerate. The manual labor that went into processing this hoop cheese was replaced by mechanical labor. And the hoop cheese wasn’t so delicious any more. So people stopped buying the hoop cheese. Not only that, they stopped coming to The Cheese Store for the things they bought before there was such a thing as hoop cheese. Worse, they started telling their friends about the bad hoop cheese. Sort of like when your customer is dissatisfied and tells 10 friends and so on. Remember: It can take 30 years to build a reputation but only 30 seconds to destroy it.
The Cheese Store tried to find a new supplier. There were none. They tried mixing cottage cheese and farmer cheese. You know what you get when you mix cottage cheese and farmer cheese? I don’t know but it doesn’t taste so well.
The business suffered because a go-to product fell by the wayside. You all have your go-to products, too. One day a problem could arise with the product or manufacturer that can change the landscape forever. Be prepared for this. Have a contingency plan. Diversify. Because you never know when your cheese will go bad.