For this series, Raymond Hook asked three ex-cheesemongers to go retail cheese shopping with him in New York City. He wanted to hear their observations on how the staff of each store interacted with their customers and their thoughts on the best methods to help people buy more cheese. Each article focuses on one of the following three criteria: knowledge, presentation and signage.
For my final shopping excursion with an ex-monger, I met up with Diana Malone, who was the Team Leader for the Whole Foods Specialty Department at Columbus Circle for 10 years. Columbus Circle boasts the busiest specialty department in the entire Whole Foods network worldwide, so it goes without saying that Diana really knows how to run a cheese shop.
We met at a well-known specialty market in lower Manhattan that’s home to an impressive cheese counter, as well as a chocolaterie, a stellar produce department, a butcher shop – you name it, they’ve got it. As we approached the cheese counter, Diana and I counted seven cheeses displayed on the countertop at room temperature; surprisingly, four had signs and three didn’t. When I asked the monger on the job the names of the unmarked cheeses, he had to consult his manager, who came over and identified them for us. I couldn’t help thinking, what if the manager wasn’t around? Diana perused the selections in the display cases and found that the same percentage of cheeses were labeled inside the cases as out on the counter: almost half were unmarked.
We approached the monger again and, out of curiosity, I asked him which cheese was his pick of the day. After thinking for a moment and scanning the counter, he (comically) told us that it was one of the cheeses he couldn’t identify earlier! No kidding.
As we walked away to wander through the store, Diana couldn’t help but express her surprise and dismay. She spoke at length about customers who are new to the world of cheese and still finding out what they like and don’t like. In her years of experience, she found that these people are often the most hesitant to ask for help; or perhaps, at particularly busy times, no monger may be available to assist them. Diana was adamant that, particularly for the benefit of unseasoned customers, a shop needs straightforward, thorough signage for every cheese, identifying the country of origin, milk type (and whether it’s raw or pasteurized milk), price, and exact location where it’s produced.
She also pointed out that signs make it much easier to remember the name of a cheese you like, which can be very important in grab-and-go areas or self-service cases. As any marketing guru will tell you, it usually takes six or seven times of seeing or hearing a product name to fully remember it, so why not give your store and your customers that advantage?
In short: great signage helps customers define their likes and choose cheeses wisely, while helping mongers and retailers boost their sales. Make it a win-win with good signage.