My French teacher at school loved an expression and one that has always stuck with me was “if you’ve got nothing interesting to say, say nothing”.
Now, as I’ve been a journalist writing and talking about the fruit and vegetable industry for 20-odd years, there may be a few people out there who would argue I wasn’t listening at the back of the class! However, as I was once again drawn to consider the lack of internet and social media presence of the wholesale industry recently, it dawned on me that actually Mr Smyth’s old chestnut applies if you add in a couple more levels.
There was far less bluff and bluster in Mr Smyth’s world and far fewer ways to convey your PR messages. Being ‘interesting’ is still important, of course, but today, I would add ‘relevant’ and ‘different’ to the list when it comes to the online profile of a business. Unless a business is all three of these things and is able to portray its characteristics effectively, then they will get lost in the ether.
I should hold my hands up; I’ve had my own business since 2009 and I don’t have a website. Like many wholesale businesses, I know I could put together an interesting website and I could certainly make it useful. But what actually dissuaded me from doing it was that there are many people out there who do what people perceive to be similar things to me. My work and my areas of expertise are specific to me – no-one else does exactly what I do, but my customer base has been built on long-term relationships, the quality and consistency of my work.
So, I decided that competing with the white noise and embarking on a never-ending mission to make my potential website different enough to matter (to me or the user) was going to be a waste of precious time. Yet I had never really equated that to the wholesale market world, wrongly (I think now) believing in the adage that every business should have a website or as I’ve been told more times than I care to remember “your website is your shop window these days”.
Yes, there is definitely value in a website, a Facebook page, a twitter and instagram account, a Linked-in profile etc… But does that value outweigh the expense and time of not just creating all of these resources, but then maintaining and enhancing them proficiently? These platforms need constant attention, otherwise they are quickly rendered obsolete.
Would a traditional wholesale market business be able to access the value on offer, operating in the hours when most people sleep, selling products that are broadly similar to those sold by several competitors in their same ‘space’? Is there a desire to provide, as some companies do quite successfully it has to be said, up-to-date product supply news, pithy blogs or news about the business? Or to get involved in the nitty gritty of Search Engine Optimisation and more that would deliver your site to more potential customers?
Clearly most traditional wholesale businesses think not and operating largely outside the digital world is not necessarily doing them any harm at all.
Arguably, it is the collective market that first sells the individual trader’s business. The website on which you are reading this blog represents every trader at New Spitalfields Market and as a B2B site, it’s a fair bet that the majority of people who visit are already aware of the existence of the market and that it houses more than 100 businesses that sell fruit, veg and flowers of every description. That they are able to see the diversity of the businesses through their profile on here is mostly going to be enough information, so long as they are aware that when they call or visit, they can source pretty much any product they want. Catering suppliers in the market are more active online as their customer base dictates they are less reliant on customers who come to the market to shop each day. However, it is still this website that will often be the first port of call for new customers.
How each company markets itself offline to new and existing customers is a different question entirely and I’d say like my business, it is relationships, consistency of offer and specific expertise that tick the boxes in the market too.
Another one of Mr Smyth’s favourites was “in days of old, when knights were bold and bugs wore boots”. I probably could have written a blog based on that one too, and it might have been interesting, even different, but it’s arguable whether it would have been all that relevant. I recognise that plenty of people reading this might have a different opinion, but as I’d written about this before and my perspective has changed, I thought I’d share that with you.