New Zealanders Jen Ferguson and Glenn Williams didn’t have big ambitions to become entrepreneurs when they moved to London in 2012. But two years later they quit their jobs and opened an independent craft beer shop, of hot sauce and wine at Peckham. “We wanted to surround ourselves with the things we love the most,” Ferguson says of Hop Burns & Black. “And see if we could get other people excited about them as well.”
Eight years later, the co-founders have expanded their range to include cider and small-batch spirits, opened a second location in Deptford, published an award-winning beer and food cookbook and launched a subscription business. flourishing.
It’s an uplifting story in a tough few years for independent retailers. The Covid-19 pandemic caused the daily closure of an average of 48 UK shops, restaurants and other hospitality venues in 2020. But there were benefits too, with customers acknowledging the importance of supporting their small businesses local. A survey last year found almost two-thirds of UK consumers had chosen to shop closer to home in the previous year, leading to a 63% increase in spending at specialist grocery stores and drinks. Half said they expected to continue doing so.
When lockdown hit, Ferguson and Williams made the decision to close both of their stores and focus their attention on online shopping and home deliveries. “More than anything, it showed that being nimble and able to adapt very quickly, keeping a cool head in difficult circumstances, was key to surviving and thriving,” Ferguson says of the pandemic. “During that first lockdown, the subscription service grew exponentially because people wanted to make sure they would get that steady supply of things they were enjoying and missing during such a strange time.” Today, Hop Burns & Black offers three subscription box options for beer, natural wine, and hot sauce, which continue to be popular.
Audience growth has largely come organically, although with some support from online advertising. The team is obsessed with customer loyalty and launched its Beer Miles customer loyalty program to build customer loyalty. Today, customers accumulate points to redeem for rewards such as t-shirts, glassware and discounts on their next purchase. “It gives us a huge database that we can access,” adds Ferguson.
A weekly newsletter was launched in 2015 to support the Beer Miles program. It’s a labor of love for Ferguson, who takes notes during the week to remind him of what to include before sending it out via Mailchimp every Thursday morning. “Initially, our motivation was to communicate the personality behind our business,” she says. “We see ourselves as more than a store selling beer, wine and hot sauce. The newsletter gives us the opportunity to highlight what we do and why.
Along with new products, favorite producers and store news, Hop Burns & Black also commissions professional beer and food writers, such as Matt Curtis and Claire Bullen, who each contribute a monthly column. Ferguson makes the newsletter skimmable, with bold headlines and color photos, and makes everything clickable so readers have plenty of opportunities to get to the website. “And once they’re there, it can lead to a sale,” she says.
The newsletter has also been useful in other ways, such as advertising vacancies or encouraging subscribers to find the company a suitable location for a new store. That’s what happened before the duo secured the Deptford store in 2018. “We offered a finder’s fee and got a lot of good leads,” says Ferguson. “It was a nice little ego boost to hear how many people were thrilled to have a branch near them.”
Newsletter subscribers also appreciate having this close connection to the brand. Ferguson says many customers will mention they read it when they enter the store, or respond with supportive comments via email. It also has a big impact on sales. “We see an increase in online sales and web traffic once the newsletter is out,” she says. “We didn’t leave with a voice or a defined brand strategy. We just write about what we feel and what interests us.
Related: Building Your Brand: How to Create Effective Newsletters
It’s those personal relationships with customers that Ferguson says will stand the brand in good stead when the cost of living crisis begins to take hold. The company is currently working to identify past customers to send them offers to entice them to return, as well as promoting the online store and delivery service to loyal customers who may have left the physical store.
Hop Burns & Black also uses Mailchimp to send subscribed customers details of what’s in their boxes each month, or to offer special rewards to top-spending VIP shoppers. “We spend a lot of time building customer loyalty,” says Ferguson. “I think it’s easier to hold than to acquire.”
Above all, his advice to other small businesses would be to focus more on projecting authenticity through a newsletter. “Product news, sales, giveaways, everything is fine. But what makes people really connect with a small business is being able to relate to it on a personal level,” she says. “You don’t have to be an expert storyteller to be able to tell stories – just celebrate your team and your values. If you speak in that authentic voice and give people insight into how you tick, they’ll be interested. »
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The views, information and opinions expressed in this article are those of the interviewees and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Intuit, Mailchimp or any of its flagship brands or employees. The main purpose of this article is to educate and inform.