If you are looking for a lovely present to give a hard to buy for relative or you just want to treat yourself then look no further than a cheese box from The Cheese Shed. Guaranteed to put a smile on any foodies face this Christmas or any other time of the year – we’re hoping someone will buy us a cheese subscription this year!
This isn’t a sponsored post – no money (or cheese) has changed hands. We just love The Cheese Shed and thought we’d share the love with you. Ian from The Cheese Shed has written about how he got started and the ethos behind the company and we hope it may inspire those of you wanting to start up your own small business.
A couple of months ago The Cheese Shed won ‘Best Independent Retailer’ in the Observer Food Monthly Awards. That’s something I couldn’t have dreamed of back in 2005 when the idea first came to me. Back then I was a music lecturer, though one who had a vague feeling that he wanted to start something for himself. ‘Something’, for sure, but what? Then, from nowhere, there was this idea – ‘sell Westcountry cheese on the internet’ – and we were off.
People queued up to say I hadn’t thought it through, and to an extent they were right. However, I decided not to let little problems like a complete absence of experience in retailing, food or the internet stand in my way, and fortunately a local deli owner saw the potential. We took our first order in May 2006.
A few thoughts on getting from there to here.
– Most of our suppliers are small businesses – just a few people involved. They’re not getting rich, just making the best quality cheese they can. Those are the people I want to work with and support. So in our Christmas boxes we use more different cheeses that we really need to – so that we can spread the Cheese Shed’s orders around more of the great makers we know.
– It paid to stick to our instincts. We decided from the off to sell our regional Westcountry cheese, not the ‘usual suspects’ that you can get anywhere. It worked; it’s still working.
– Another thing I like is being involved with creativity and craftsmanship. Beauty too. Put a Millstone cheese on the table, with its amazing textured, coloured rind. Even before you eat it the world’s a better place.
– ‘Customer service’ is just about trying to treat people decently. If things go wrong (and they will), don’t count the pennies: just do something that will make everybody feel better. Being fair and human is more important than any amount of ‘Terms and Conditions’.
– Modern business and the internet are very impersonal. If people know there’s a real person behind a site – and someone who’s happy to talk if necessary – they’re much happier. Who wants someone called ‘office‘ or ‘enquiries‘ when they could talk to ‘Ian’?
– Our timing was good. A wave of interest in food from small producers, food with provenance, quality and character – symbolized by the Slow Food movement – was gathering momentum. The Cheese Shed’s just been surfing that wave (yes, I know a surfing shed’s an improbable image, but you know what I mean).
– You need to believe in what you do. If you can’t believe in it, do something else. People can see through things that are just ‘cashing in’ and have no integrity.
– You can think of this as the anti-Apprentice view. The philosophy of that show can be summed up as ‘give no thought whatever to the quality of what you’re selling, just sell as much as possible, for as high a price as possible’. Is that really a good way to work (or to live)? I’m not even sure it’s good business. Ultimately I think you have to feel good about what you’re doing: sure, the business needs to succeed, but not at any cost.