This month we sat down and had a chinwag over a proper cup of tea with Lisa and Nigel Whitmore, proprietors of local Connecticut retailer UK Gourmet. The store offers a variety of foods from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Lisa, although not from Europe herself, runs the business and grew up in an English and Irish family. Lisa met Nigel, an Englishman, at one of Lisa’s family member’s wedding and they were married in 2000. They opened UK Gourmet in 2003 because Nigel would get homesick for the food and goodies from his home country. The closest place he could get anything that reminded him of his home was an hour away and Lisa, having a retail background, realized “I could do better and offer more!”
UK Gourmet was originally located in Newtown, CT, for 13 years before moving further down the road to Bethel, CT. “If you move, you want to make sure you don’t want to move again,” Lisa warned. Their old location was “jam-packed” and they were “desperate for space.” Their new location gives them “extra elbow room” and more visibility. It was “a dream to move in here.”
Being such a unique shop, their customers are very important to Lisa and Nigel. Many shoppers are from Europe and are delighted to see so many of their favorite items from home. Lisa explained that her customers usually buy “something small and simple that means a lot to them since they’re far from home.” Who knew a bag of crisps could bring someone so much joy? There is also a map set up in the store that is used by customers to pin where they are from and see how many fellow Europeans currently live in the area.
UK Gourmet does more than offer comfort to its customers; they are very involved in charities as well as local Chambers of Commerce. UK Gourmet works with the Women’s Club on various fundraisers. For example, before the holidays they collect gifts to give to veterans. They are also involved with the Women’s Center in Danbury and participate in their annual walk-a-thon and cut-a-thon. Lisa and Nigel regularly place a jar on the counter that shoppers can throw change in to donate to the Women’s Center. UK Gourmet also has a Poppy Appeal in which red poppy pins are handed out in exchange for donations towards British veterans.
Personally, Lisa is also very involved local efforts around town including the Newtown and Bethel Chambers of Commerce. She also writes a column for the Penny Saver entitled Around Our Town, which includes events and happenings hosted by retailers in Newtown, Bethel, and the surrounding area.
UK Gourmet has a lot going on and still manages to offer customers a variety of goods and impeccable customer service. Lisa shares her advice on how she does it all.
One of the worst thing retailers can do is “get complacent.” Make sure you are giving your customers the best service and experience by “taking yourself out of your comfort zone,” explains Lisa. She suggests retailers go to a new store and search for something you have no knowledge of and ask for help and information from store associates. After this experience, “take away the pros and cons and figure out what you learned and want to use in your own store.”
Other than making sure you’re always learning and expanding your knowledge, make sure your employees are constantly aware of who is in the store and what’s happening. Lisa says, “You may get tired of the repetition,” but always greet, check up on, and thank shoppers as well as “always remind them to come back.” Employees learn from example, therefore you need to set the bar high. Lisa makes sure to present herself in the same way she expects her employees to be, she even has “noticed that they’ll parrot me!” Having a good sales force and excellent customer service starts with you. In order to be friendly and pleasant all day, Lisa gives one last piece of advice: “get your rest and eat right, customers notice that.”