The Skills In Setting Up A Business Are Demonstrated by Irish Teenagers in Dragons Den

Young Entrepreneurs Start Own BusinessAside from being passionate about our own business in The Cheese Mall, I am passionate about seeing young entrepreneurs succeed at setting up a small business. In Ireland, the transition year in school gives students scope think of business ideas, to set up a minibusiness, to learn valuable life skills and perhaps to invent a product. The students receive excellent guidance from teachers, from business people and from their parents. I’m delighted to say that some of our Cheese Mall books have been purchased and given to students in transition year so they can use our book with its step by step approach to create their business plan and grow their business.

Watching young entrepreneurs pitch to the Dragons in the Junior Dragons Den on Sunday night, I was inspired by their ambition, their ideas, their preparation and their ability to deliver their presentations in a confident and articulate fashion. Yes, one or two could perhaps have completely some more research into their market or their packaging but for teenagers, each one of them deserved a medal, not just the award of €2,000.

I had two favourites – one was Killholly Farm Sets,  two boys who were making toy farm sheds and wanted to grow the business by creating flat pack units which parents/children could build together. They received valuable advice from the dragons, two pieces being to think about creating modular units which could be added on, so that a child could get another unit at each birthday or Christmas, another being to develop their web presence and sell their flat pack product online direct to the consumer rather than to the retailers. Two excellent pieces of advice.

Ciara of irish baubles

My other favourite was Ciara of Irish  Baubles. She recognised how people unearth memories each year with their Christmas decorations, how many people buy a special Christmas decoration as a gift or as a souvenir and she has created beautiful glass baubles which are painted with charming Irish scenes and are packaged beautifully in a red box. The perfect purchase for a tourist visiting Ireland and wanting souvenirs or gifts that are small, transportable and that hold special memories. Ciara had her pitch well prepared with sales to date, turnover, costings, lead times and projections. Ciara also supplies baubles as wedding favours, an excellent idea.

The  Dragons questioned the retail price, feeling it was a little high. However, as we state in our book, the market dictates the price, consumers are prepared to pay a particular price for a product because of the added value associated with it. By added value, I’m not just referring to the Irishness or the packaging or the hand painting. In the case of Irish Baubles, the baubles contain memories, wonderful memories that can be recreated every single Christmas.

Phenomenal achievements for teenagers – the future is bright in their hands. Hopefully more teenagers will be inspired by their success and with the help of teachers, enterprise board, business people and books like ours, more will go on to create their own businesses.

If you would like to enquire about buying our book for yourself, your teenager or for a number of students, please contact us here.

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The Value of Value Added Benefits

If you are selling something – be it a product or a service – and that will include absolutely everyone in business, what is your value-added? What do you add to your product or your service that adds value, that makes you stand out from the crowd, that makes your business unique, that ensure you can add your value-added benefits to your USP?

Value of Value Added Benefits

  • We offer great variety of product and we ask customers to let us know if there is a product out there that they would like to try and we do our best to source it for them. 
  • We pride ourselves on our customer service but are continually aware that this needs to be constantly monitored and evaluated to ensure we give 110%. We offer service with a smile. 
  • We stock well known brands that promise good quality and we also offer the lesser known, up and coming, new brands too.
  • The quality of our products are second to none. We visit our suppliers regularly, we have high standards that have to be met and we double check everything before it is put on the shelves. Naturally enough too, as cheese lovers, we sample our products quite often too!
  • We offer free local delivery too – and find that older shoppers and young adults using public transport, tend to avail of this service.
  • We open late two evenings a week, on Thursday and Fridays.
  • We offer personalised cheese cake birthday cakes now too and these have been going down a treat.
  • Very soon, we are going to be offering birthday parties. Once the playground is open nearby, children will be able to come in and don their aprons, make various shaped cookies and cheese cakes, decorate them and have a good time. They will eat in the cafe and then return to collect their baking before heading off to the playground. We really do offer something for all ages.

The concept behind value-added is simple. The more value added benefits you can give a customer, the more satisfied they will be.  People going into business selling a product need to recognise that they aren’t just selling that product. In order to be successful, they need to be including value added benefits as well. A successful coffee shop doesn’t just serve good coffee, they serve it with a smile. A successful social media consultant doesn’t just sell social media training, they have to be adaptable, understanding, be capable of speaking in a language their ‘student’ will understand, be available to answer queries, offer follow up training and much more.

What value do these value added benefits have for your business? They provide you with loyal customers, they help you to stand out from your competitors, they bring you recommendations and more business, they improve your bottom line.

What value added benefits do you offer your customers?


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Chat to Customers – You Might Be Surprised At What You Hear

We all like to think that if we provide good customer service will lead to consumer loyalty.  Reading a recent article in the Sunday Business Post by Leanne Papaioannou presented some interesting ideas.

Millie - Chat To CustomersWe had been toying with the idea of introducing a ‘loyalty-type’ card for customers particularly for when we expand into a franchise but on asking customers, we received a mixed response.  Some felt they had enough loyalty cards from various supermarkets and coffee shops in their purse as it was which meant too that these individuals, by having so many, weren’t necessarily loyal to one particular shop.  A few even responded that they come to us because they enjoy the shopping experience (which was exactly what we wanted to hear) and a loyalty card wouldn’t necessarily encourage them to spend more. As Papaioannou states ‘Loyalty is not just about handing out points, rewards or coupons’.

Papaioannou sings from the same sheet as we do (and what our mentor,  The Beacon Coach reminds us too)  – we also believe that it takes time to build trust and loyalty, that businesses need to put the customer first and that businesses need to consistently interact and engage with existing and potential customers.

As we advocated recently too, managers need to step to the other side of the till sometimes, to see how their customers are being treated. They also need to step aside from the office too and stand behind the counter. Papaioannou also suggests that they spend time regularly in the customer service department and listen to the variety of customer calls. Listen to what your customers want, then do everything you can to deliver it.

As you know, I’ve been somewhat concerned about Matthew’s girlfriend, Cissy, working in the shop as her customer service can be a tad lacking.  She spent last week in the office answering a variety of calls and I’d asked her to sum up any feedback she received – from complaints to praise and everything in between.  She discovered that people loved being able to purchase cheese and relish hampers at those times of the year when they are visiting as it is such a user-friendly and practical gift to bring to the hostess – many asked that we hold a variety in stock all year around if we can. We knew they had sold well at Christmas and Easter but it is good to know that people will now be actively looking for them as an all-year gift idea.

As our planning for setting up a franchise grows, we need to consider how we will ensure that all the branches of The Cheese Mall uphold the same high customer service levels that we do and that’s what our next meeting with our mentor, The Beacon Coach, will concentrate on.

If it is one thing we can’t get complacent about, it is continued customer loyalty. Therefore, businesses need to be continually concentrating on how they can improve their customer service – and finding out by asking their customers.

We’d love some more likes for  our facebook page, we love chatting to people over there so do give us a like if you’d like to connect.

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Mind Your Own Business – but with a smile!!

Mind Your Own BusinessDid you see Feargal Quinn on the Saturday Night Show the week before last? He was promoting his new book ‘Mind Your Own Business‘. As you probably know, Senator Quinn is one of our heroes, we so agree with his philosophies on the need for and value of good customer service, not to mention the fact that he endorsed our book! Always eloquent, he talked about ‘What is Customer Service’ when discussing his book.

Senator Quinn provided a wonderful quote when he was on the show, apparently it is based on a Chinese proverb ‘If you can’t smile, don’t open a shop’. How true is that? I think we have all walked into a shop to be met by a scowling shop assistant who clearly didn’t want to be there. How did it make you feel? It made me feel unwelcome and unwanted and I just left, without buying anything. Staff with sunny smiles who are delighted to be helpful are a godsend!

Ducketts Grove Tearooms

One tearoom I love to visit is that run by Madeleine Forrest at Ducketts Grove near Carlow. Open on Sundays at the moment (all weekend soon as the weather improves).  Apart from the hot chocolates being scrumptious and the cakes delicous, it is Madeleine’s smile and cheery welcome that really makes the tearoom a place to enjoy wholeheartedly.  We all know what makes a house a home – cheery smiling staff can transform a tearoom, a shop, a business.

I mention this too as I’ve been keeping an eye on Cissy, Matthew’s girlfriend, who is working with us for the time being. She’s been rude to a customer already which is inexcusable but her demeanour just hasn’t been what I would describe as welcoming either.  They say never work with children or animals – I think the same goes for girlfriends/boyfriends!

Back to Senator Quinn’s book ‘Mind Your Own  Business – Survive & Thrive In Good Times and Bad’ – it is based on his series ‘Retail Therapy’ as well as his own valuable experiences over the years. He believes that businesses can thrive at any time, even in a recession. The book provides steps to follow and chapters include Innovation, Meeting Customers Needs and Succession.  It is going on my ‘soon to read’ book list!

Good customer service (and smiling staff) are an extremely important part of your sales and marketing. Do you think your staff are your number one key to success or failure?

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What Makes Good Customer Service? Ten Tips

Matthew and I are firm believers in the power of customer service so you can imagine our consternation when we received not one, not two but three complaints last week!  Two of the complainants were very nice and appreciated that we were understaffed and just wanted to make us aware of the situation in case it had an adverse effect on our business. They know we always put the customer as our number one.  We do our best to put the customer at the centre of everything we do, from creating the best shopping experience to ordering in special orders to delivering their shopping for them. The third complainant was most annoyed though and threatened to take her business elsewhere.

What is Good Customer Service - Ten Tips

We have Matthew’s girlfriend Cissy back in this week as an additional member of staff as we know the mistakes happened due to staff illnesses and not having enough people to cover. However, we’re determined these types of complaints won’t happen again. After all,  customers tell something like 7 times the number of people about a negative experience than positive ones.

I’m currently looking into sending every member of staff on a new or refresher customer service course. We need to be operating what Feargal Quinn calls the ‘Boomerang Principle’ ensuring that each and every customer returns to us again and again.

Ten Tips For Good Customer Service

  • Listen to customers, have eye contact, ensure you understand what it is they are looking for. Also listen to the non-customer and work out why he or she decided NOT to buy from you.
  • Have a comment box for feedback and take action on the comments, compliments and criticisms. 
  • Always be polite – never answer back! Use the person’s name if you know it.
  • Don’t chat away to friends or other colleagues. Give the customer your full attention.
  • Respond as soon as possible to queries.
  • Go the extra mile if a customer is looking for something in particular. When they thank you, don’t say ‘no bother’ as that suggests it didn’t involve any extra work. Smile and say ‘you are very welcome and we look forward to seeing you again soon’.
  • If you make a mistake, admit it, apologise and put it right. Learn from people’s complaints and thank them for their feedback.
  • Reward loyal customers e.g. a loyalty card, a discount, a little extra for free – make them feel special
  • Put yourself in their shoes – Jump across the counter and look at your shop from a customer’s perspective.
  • Smile 🙂

Having good customer skills is one of the most important aspects of business and it is important that it is as good as it possibly can be.  We had an internal shop recap on the main points as listed above, however, every member of staff will complete an entire or refresher customer service course.

Have you anything to add to our ten tips for good customer service?

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How Comprehensive is your Business Planning?

Does your business plan include planning for long term staff sick leave or even short term staff sick leave?  Ours didn’t – it now will have that included!  It has been such a fortnight!

The Cheese MallI was away from work for almost a full two weeks. I got the ‘real flu’ – not man flu or woman flu but a flu like I had never experienced before.  I was in bed for five days, then up and on the sofa, I did go into work one morning knowing they were short staffed but had to come home again after a couple of hours.  Many of our staff were out for 2 or 3 days too with various colds.

Small business advice (or even medium business advice but small businesses tend to have fewer staff so the effects of one or two staff members being away unexpectedly is felt more severely)  must include having a back-up plan for these eventualities. Life is such that people get ill and as is the case with Murphy’s Law, it will always happen that either a few will get sick together or it will occur at the busiest time of the year.

Matthew’s girlfriend Cissy stepped into the breach for the two weeks and by all accounts, worked really well. I was worried about the two of them working together as they seem to be so infatuated with each other but it seems as though they did tear their eyes away from each other and got some work done. Matthew has dropped hints about Cissy coming to work full time at the Cheese Mall but we’re back to a full staff now this week and we don’t have any vacancies so she is out job hunting again this week.

As our tagline for the  Cheese Mall is ‘the ultimate shopping experience’, I was really concerned that our staffing difficulties for the last couple of weeks would damage our reputation. Customers don’t like having to wait long to be served and we have always prided ourselves on our customer service.  However, our turnover didn’t alter and we seem to be just as busy this week as ever, thank goodness.

I am determined to include all these ‘extras’ in our business planning, even our marketing plans.  Cover for unexpected staff sick leave is one thing but there must be other eventualities I haven’t thought of and before they raise their ugly heads, I would be happier if I could pre-empt some of them. Budding entrepreneurs we may be but we have to be ‘prepared for most eventualities’ budding entrepreneurs!  Have you faced unexpected challenges in your business that you could share with us?

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Time Management & Staffing Issues in Business

I’m sitting at home feeling a bit poorly as I’m typing this, all nice and cosy in bed with a hot water bottle. I’m feeling guilty that I’m not working so blogging is the next best thing!

Time Management and Staffing Issues in Business

Time Management and Staffing Issues in Business

As I mentioned in my ‘Time management’ post two weeks ago, Matthew and I have been working on improving our time management and some aspects are working well. However, he has a new girlfriend and I can understand that he wants to spend as much time as he can with her but almost every evening!!  We have to hold all our meetings in work-time now which I guess makes us more focused whereas previously we were working all day and then making our business decisions in informal meetings at home in the evenings.

We now have a daily meeting during our morning coffee break and while we meet on our own twice a week, we also meet with members of other departments on the other days so it is working quite well.  We meet with Accounts on a Monday to discuss the previous week’s turnover and how we can improve going forward. On Wednesdays, we meet with Retail to discuss future campaigns, special offers, ordering stock, stock-taking.  Friday is the turn of the little cafe and we discuss aspects such as promotions for the following week as well as profit and loss!  Our latest offer of a coffee and cheese scone for €3 has worked really well so we are looking at expanding on these combo offers.

Matthew’s girlfriend is ‘between jobs’ at the moment so he suggested getting her in to cover for me today while I am poorly. I’m a little concerned about it to be honest, she doesn’t have any retail or customer service experience so I’m really hoping I don’t have to spend tomorrow picking up the pieces. Maybe I’m being too harsh and pessimistic but I’m just not hopeful about it working out.  I’ve a feeling Matthew would like to hire her full-time when we expand and I wouldn’t be happy with having the two love birds working side by side – can you imagine the trauma and tense atmosphere if they split up?

Am I being too harsh? I suppose time will tell and I’ll find out more tomorrow. Check out our facebook page to find out how it all goes 🙂

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