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By using social media Christine Hope reaches her loyal customer base and beyond to shout about her fantastic range. Helena Drakakis finds out how initiatives such as her #shoplocal30 campaign are playing a big part in this
How do you keep your offer fresh for local customers who have shopped with you for 15 years and also attract tourists new to your area?
This is the challenge faced by Christine Hope, owner of Hopes of Longtown in the rural village of Hereford.
Longtown is a tourist destination in the summer, so from April to October her 1,130sq ft store benefits from increased footfall and spend. But between November and April, weekly takings can drop by around £2,000, so keeping a steady stream of residents coming through the doors is paramount.
“Local customers are our lifeblood and we know 90% of them by sight,” says Christine. “If someone spends £30 a week then disappears that has a big impact, so we need to keep our offer fresh and relevant.”
To attract both sets of customers, Christine has built an extensive range that caters for daily convenience shopping, gift purchases and essentials for walkers.
Newspapers and magazines sit alongside Ordnance Survey maps, walking guides, gift wrap, cards and books, and the store also sells gardening products, an extensive selection of alcohol and soft drinks, fresh fruit, vegetables and organic products.
Its standout range is more than 200 locally-sourced products, including gins, craft beers, flowers and chocolate, supplied by several specialist firms from within a 30-mile radius from the store.
I don’t want people to think our village is a backwater. It’s a thriving place
With this vast selection a big selling point, Christine says regular marketing via social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and the store’s website is crucial for raising awareness, and the energy she has invested in this earned her the Independent Achievers Academy’s Digital Engagement award last year.
To promote local products, for example, Christine launched her online #shoplocal30 campaign via Twitter and Facebook, and the hashtag has become a talking point. In store, products are labelled under the same umbrella, providing continuity to the campaign.
“Putting money back into our village was the reason I went into business,” she says.
Local products help Christine meet specific customer needs too.
“I have one customer who is coeliac, so I’ve just got in gram flour for her. We can’t meet every request, but we try,” she says.
Social media is used to promote these specialist ranges too. After seeing a post from a coeliac group recently, Christine commented, encouraging readers to try her range.
“People don’t expect rural shops to sell products like this,” she says.
With this in mind, and to promote the store’s organic herbs, spices, milk, cheese and meat, Christine’s store also took part in the national “Wake up to Organic” campaign – where consumers are encouraged to include organic products in their breakfasts – in-store and via Facebook Live last week. Social media, she adds, also helps her promote her business values.
Several of her suppliers share her belief in local products, for example, so she links into their blog posts to easily share information about their ranges with customers.
This in turn helps her promote the local business community and the wider area.
“I don’t want people to think our village is a backwater. It’s a thriving place,” she says.
To this end, she also tells stories about her village and her family – recently added to by the birth of her daughter, Nola – through these channels to engage people with the business and the area.
Asked whether her online activity led to profits, Christine admits it hasn’t resulted in a dramatic rise. But it is helping her cement her store’s values of sustainability, environmental consciousness and its place in the heart of the Longtown community.
And getting the message out to shoppers that there is something new to see each day is playing a vital role in attracting trade. “If customers know you, they assume they know what you do. But you need to communicate that you are ever-evolving,” she says.
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