With more businesses exploiting social media it is not surprising that big businesses now have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. But there is a growing realisation that you don’t have to be a major company to reap the benefits of connecting with customers online.
Driffield-based Rafters is one of a growing number of Yorkshire food businessses that has embraced the digital age.
The shop, on Middle Street South, sells fruit, vegetables and flowers, some grocery goods and store cupboard products, and owners, Andy Rafter and his wife Tracy, now offer online ordering, veg boxes and partner with other local producers to offer their products online too.
Rafters has an active Facebook page with more than 1,700 “likes” - no easy feat.
Andy types the posts himself, which include details of the latest items in the veg boxes and, this week, a lost-and-found appeal for a lunchbox a child left in the shop.
The couple also tweet about such information and offer customers a text messaging service so they know when their home delivery is due to arrive.
They took on the shop in 1997 and knew customer service would be key to the success of their small business.
Before he bought the shop Andy, who previously worked in fruit and veg wholesale, used to finish a shift and drive to Driffield to sit on a bench outside the building and watch the business running.
“It was my kind of market research. I wanted to know how the business ran, who went in, who didn’t go in and it helped me decide what I needed to do.”
The shop has always been busy but a year ago Andy and Tracy launched their online veg box scheme. The couple’s website myvegbox.com allows customers to order a range of veg and fruit boxes which they can add to or create from scratch by selecting from the individual items available.
There is also a salad box and prices range from the ‘Solo’ at £6 to the ‘Super’ at £30.
Andy said: “We started doing veg boxes because we were asked for them. At the time it seemed like national companies were doing them and there were too many people in the chain. We keep the costs down as we do everything, we take the order, we pick the order and we deliver the order.”
Veg boxes are traditionally seen as something done in major cities as the logistics of delivering to a very rural area like the East Riding can be very expensive.
Rafters provide delivery to Driffield, Bridlington and the surrounding area for free.
Andy said: “We have a number of commercial clients, nursing homes and schools and so we plan our veg box deliveries around these so that we can save time and money. Obviously delivering a £6 minimum order to one customer who lives 12 miles away isn’t cost effective but by organising our deliveries we can make it possible.”
Andy picks, tastes, barters and buys all the produce for the shop and says it’s this level of service that can help them challenge the supermarkets.
“We’re a small operation and can therefore respond very quickly to changes in the market, in price for example, and pass that on to the customer.
“Since the veg boxes started we have seen an increase in sales of things that have featured in them, such as chicory fennel and pak choi.”
Once items for the week’s boxes are selected, Andy uploads photos and lists of the items to Facebook for customers to see. He said: “We didn’t invent the concept of veg box deliveries, but we’ve worked hard to make it work for us and our customers and by using social media we can have a real two-way connection to all our customers not just those in the shop.”