As we (that’s me Steve and my partner Becca) enter our 11th year of running this scheme we chatted over the break about where we are, where we came from and where we want to go.
It was only why discussing our history we realised that of our 10 years in existence, we had spent 8 years of it either in recession or coming out of one. We, perhaps, had not appreciated how fortunate we are to still be in existence now when, now we think about it, you lose 50% of your customer base in 6 months as we did in 2008.
In effect we came to appreciate that, having started our scheme as an add-on to our farm shop, we spent the first 2 years growing the number of customers around our base in Kent. It went well. We started in 2005 and by early 2008 we had hundreds of customers. We now had a box scheme with a shop. In early 2008 we took on a massive expansion in a related area about 2 months before the smelly stuff hit the fan. Looking back we should have put the cash into the box scheme – ride the horse that’s winning right – but our retail side was pretty succesful as well so we went for it.
You know the expression your ‘blood goes cold’? It’s true. It happened to me, and Becca as well I think, in late July 2008. A large US property bank filed for bankruptcy and I knew meltdown was on its way. By the end of 2008 we had lost our 50%.
That then sparked 6 years of ducking and diving to keep the box scheme going amongst all of the other chaos. We survived but badly scarred, and had to leave some people in the lurch. Nowhere near as bad as ourselves, but we lost some friends.
When we reflected back – which is not a pleasant journey – we realised that despite all of the above we were still in business. We had to go back to basics – us driving and packing – and start to build our base back up again. It’s hard to do from behind the wheel of a van, or with a handful of carrots for the next box, but we have over the past 2 years slowly got back to where we where in May 2008.
So where are we now? Well we now no longer drive/pack other than to cover and we are only 20 odd customers short of our highest ever customer base. I wouldn’t say we sleep soundly yet, but we do sleep now.
So where do we go from here? Well we want to expand our business now so that we can both deliver a better service and make a bit of money. Not a lot, just enough to let us sleep soundly.
What is interesting is that the way forward for us now is completely different that it was when we were last at this point in 2008. Why that is can be summed up :
SOCIAL MEDIA & GOOGLE
It is quite apparent to us that the future of our business is about direct contact with our customers and prospects via Facebook, Twitter etc. Google means, like it or not, we know a lot more about our customers and markets than we could have imagined just 8 years ago. We have known this for a couple of years but now we have time to action it.
At the moment our customers get great veg and other foods every week. We know this because they tell us and they stay with us. But that’s it. In the old days I used to write a weekly newsletter which was printed and put in the box every week. Some veg news, some humour, and a bit of selling. Now, in 2016, we have to offer a digital version of the newsletter. We need to offer our customers more than a box of veg – more of a service.
So our reflection over Christmas came to the same conclusion we had made in early 2008. We need to improveour business service and offer more interaction with our customers. We need to move from LP to Spotify. That’s what we need to do.