If you’re going to open a retail space, love it more than your customer does.

Retail is f*cking hard. One of my tips in last month’s blog was NOT to open a physical brick and mortar business, unless it’s part of your life dream and you have to.

A recent interaction with a local business owner inspired this post.

 

The lead up to the space opening

To provide some background, this business has been around since 2017 selling vegan food through its website + delivery and also at local events around town. One year into my business (primarily as a copywriter), I sent a DM to introduce myself and my services. Since I was no longer doing publicity, when the owner asked me if I did public relations and sales (or knew anyone who did), I sent a couple of publicists their way.

The company has a Facebook and Instagram account. In mid-October last year, they announced their storefront location was opening on November 1st, then they announced the exact location on November 8. In mid-November, they announced the opening would be delayed to December 1st.

Even though I have been following this biz for years, I only knew it was opening a physical location in December because I stumbled on an Instagram post talking about it and the new address was in their Instagram bio.

On opening day, I emailed the owner to ask if they wanted to be interviewed on VEG Networking Canada to promote the new location and asked if they had hired a publicist. I mentioned I might have an opening for a publicity client in January, but assumed that they might be promoting to media that month if they were working with a publicist.

If you look at their Instagram feed, you’ll see photos of baked goods (and a couple of shots of a holiday market where they were also selling) throughout the last two months of 2023 (and prior). If you didn’t look at their bio or read their descriptions, you wouldn’t know they had opened a new location.

Now I won’t say whoever handles their social media does a bad job, but if I were them, I would have done 7-day countdown posts to the storefront launch opening with big letters in an image, not photos of their products.

And what about launch day? I would have invited customers to come in for a free sample to celebrate and taken tons of photos and videos of customers eating food. The only thing better than a shot of good food is it going in someone’s mouth, no?

I wanted to visit the location over the holidays, but then I got sick, so it took me another few weeks to get there.

 

Visiting the retail space

The space is in the Kitsilano area of Vancouver, which has a good number of vegan-friendly restaurants, cafes, and bakeries. While not in a secluded area, I wouldn’t say it’s in an area with the highest foot traffic. There is ample space outside (if they wanted to pursue a patio permit in the summer), but it’s not on an intersection, so it won’t stand out immediately when you walk or ride by.

I wondered if they used the same signage as the previous owner because it had “BAKERY: FRESH WHOLESOME LOCAL” on the west side of the building, not in the same branding as their company logo.

The space is VERY small with no room for seating. It’s essentially a grab and go location, but there’s a good number of items available to take home, including beverages. After making my purchase, I asked if the owner was in, and they were.

I introduced myself quickly, as this was the first time we were meeting in person. I briefly mentioned the messages I had sent via Instagram. They said they didn’t check Instagram because they outsource that. I said I would email again and confirmed the address to send to. I emailed the Monday after my weekend visit about appearing on VEG Networking Canada and my publicity services.

 

The dish

Within the hour, the owner said they had not worked with a publicist as it wasn’t in their budget. Understandable.

I mentioned I could create a local media list that they or a team member could use for a lower fee, and that being able to deliver food samples to media would help them get coverage. I also mentioned the Kitsilano Business Leaders Meetup, which meets monthly in the morning (great audience if you want to impress for breakfast).

The owner replied to explain that they sell at several retailers and events outside of their location, including on Uber Eats and DoorDash. They seemed to not like the idea of giving media samples.

This last bit was the kicker: “The storefront is not something we really focus on; it’s just there to help our online pickup orders go a bit more smoothly, but it’s been great that we have been getting a good amount of sales from it as well…I work 7 days a week to keep everything under control.

This tells me the owner sees their storefront as one of many points of sale, which is absolutely true. But the thing about a storefront is it’s a physical ad. It’s something you’ve got to tell your neighbouring businesses about, and the neighbouring residents about.

If I were them, I’d be putting a flyer in every mailbox in their postal code. Maybe with a discount code, but at the very least to tell people “WE ARE HERE!” and “WE LOVE THIS NEIGHBOURHOOD!” regardless of whether that’s even true.

The owner sees their location as a pickup station for online food orders. They also have no days off. I shouldn’t judge, ’cause maybe if you don’t have days off, you’re truly doing what you love and living life to the fullest.

I added in my reply, “If media haven’t covered you, there are lots of folks in town who still don’t know about your business. Opening a retail storefront is one piece of news you can share that warrants media doing a story on you. Lots of media and bloggers will do a story if you send them a gift (for example a sample box of goodies). It’s not necessary, but if they can’t taste anything, they likely won’t write a story. You could also offer that folks can pick up a sample box from the location for free vs. you spending money on delivery.”

Typically, if you offer a free gift/sample to media, you’re responsible for delivering it, but I explained a way they could get around that by making media pick up from their location (they could also do on-the-spot interviews there). There are ways to keep costs down while enticing media to report on your business.

I didn’t get the sense that this company did not need marketing. Everyone does.

 

Where is the love?

Maybe I’m reading too much into the email, but I didn’t get a reply after providing the advice for which I would typically charge. It didn’t seem to me like this business owner appreciated their retail location or cared to shout out about it from the rooftops. And I don’t get it!

Retail space costs so much to rent, and it’s obviously an additional expense for the business. Why wouldn’t you want to 5x your sales to make up for the additional expense?

Thinking about the four other vegan bakeries in the city that have retail locations, To Live For Bakery takes the cake. It’s not in a high-traffic area, but you’ll often see line-ups and butts in seats every weekend, and it’s because you can FEEL the love that the owner exudes on their Instagram account (Erin Ireland runs it herself in addition to her own account).

Both Level V Bakery and Bonus Bakery also post on social media frequently, though you won’t see much of the owner or staff. There is one other vegan bakery (also in Kitsilano) but they only post once or twice a month on social media. That tells me they don’t care to share everything they’re making, and they certainly don’t want to share anything about themselves. And it shows. I don’t hear them talked about much—or at all—throughout the year.

The business that inspired this post has really great products and I’ll continue supporting them if I’m in the area or see them at events. It’s clear they love to make food, but they could give more love to their customers—and their new location.

 

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