“I’ve never lived anywhere where I am on hugging or flirting terms with so many of my local shop-keepers.”
I’ve quipped this to a number of people, flip, mildly amusing. But there is a deeper strand to the thought.
One day, at the Brickworks Farmer’s Market, I watched other people’s children engaging with the process of buying food. It struck me that there was an en-joy-ment that is mostly absent from the supermarket experience.
I am increasingly choosing to buy much of my food from people with whom I have developed some relationship, where I have some sense of where it has come from, how it has been raised or grown. Many of these people are passionate and hugely knowledgeable about what they do.
Bill, at Art of Cheese on Kingston Rd., really knows his cheese but is also expert in the kind of banter that keeps you coming back for that connection as well as the cheese.
Royal Beef on the Danforth are Master Butchers, skilled in their art; they keep us stocked with naturally raised beef, pork and chicken, as well as wonderful creamy goat feta, artisan Salami and more. But we also go back for the warmth of welcome from Carm and her staff, the well-informed suggestions.
Our garlic comes from Ross of Stone Soup Farms, who grows a number of different varieties north of Brockville – I never want to have to go back to supermarket garlic; this tastes so much better! A first meeting at the garlic stall at Soupstock and chance re-union at Royal Beef have grown into a friendship.
In each case there is a combination of a quality product, passion and expertise, and what I would term ‘relationship marketing’.
Similarly, when I buy clothes, more and more I seem to seek out smaller shops where, again, there is genuine passion as well as a line of connection through to the maker. Jennifer at Ziliotto epitomizes this; she seems to have an innate understanding of ‘relationship marketing’. A couple of times a year or more, I find myself at the Danforth store, sipping wine, nibbling cheese and meeting interesting people. Alongside this, I have expert input from the designer and her staff on the clothes that suit me and how to work them. I also get to meet the craftspeople behind the jewellery, belts, bags and hats that the store stocks in addition to Jennifer’s designs. The hug when I leave, often accompanied by a small gift sourced from another local business, is genuinely warm. In between times, that vital sense of connection is stoked by an excellent weekly video blog. This approach epitomizes to me the point of intersection between authentically human relationship and good marketing.
What I have noticed is that, whether buying food or clothes, if I buy from this connected, passionate space, the authenticity of the experience imbues the ‘product’ with a richness that is largely absent from my experience as a ‘consumer’.
When I have talked to Bill, Carm or Ross, or a local producer in the Farmers’ Market about what I am buying, I savour every mouthful. And every mouthful comes with a host of subliminal connections and emotions that enhance the experience. It seems to me that I even eat less, because what I eat satisfies more than the physical need for sustenance.
To wear one of my Ziliotto dresses is, at some level, to relive the sense of embrace of the buying experience. Team it with a Susana Erazo belt and I’m already surrounded by friends before I start my day! The material objects have become imbued with connections and meaning that enrich my living.
It strikes me that both obesity and the constant need to buy new things can, in some part, be traced back to the lack of connection and meaning that is so often the mark of mass consumerism. We crave more food, more clothes, more everything, because we live with a sense that our appetites are never quite satisfied.
So this is by way of a salute to that small but growing band of entrepreneurs who understand that passion, meaning, friendship, connection – all those qualities that define the best of what it is to be human – can also be good business.