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A love letter to the shop on the hill

Tony Donaldson 02 February 2021

Business We Believe In

How my local corner shop got a nose ahead during a pandemic with a little smart thinking and adaptability.


As a part of our ‘businesses we believe in’ segment, the brief was to write a small piece about a business that has been doing good for society, has been commercially smart, or has simply given us cause to believe in it. While being aware I was probably supposed to write about a multinational or industry giant. It didn’t feel right. So, I didn’t.


So far during COVID, small, local businesses have been somewhat left to fend for themselves. Government help is either coming too slowly or not at all, and huge numbers of them (which unequivocally prop our economy - let’s not forget) are dying.


COVID has been brutal. But for the adaptable - not fatal. For me, there’s one in particular that shows just that.


After almost two years I’ve just moved out of my flat. I leave behind all of the normal things; stolen pint glasses, inexplicably more coathangers than I moved in with and a questionably stained shagpile. But importantly - I leave behind my local shop.


A local shop in London is a bit of an institution. You get to know the people who run it, you see your neighbours in there, and over time you form an affinity. The family run ‘Express Supermarket’ on Hazelville Road is a perfect example of one. They sell everything you could possibly need - always with a distinctly Mediterranean vibe (at least six different hummus varieties at all times).


For the past few months the Express Supermarket has been undergoing a transformation. The obvious being a renaming to decidedly more quaint ‘Shop on the Hill’ with matching signage out front - but more subtly by adapting to the times in two quite clever ways.


Number one. The ‘Shop on the Hill’ have done social just right.


They’ve made unexpected use of Instagram. Using Insta Stories to announce fresh produce coming in, dynamic special offers and even to make seasonal suggestions of recipes and new things to try, they’ve fully embraced the power of social.


It’s not just that. With Maps imagery, contact details and opening times always up to date on Google, you’re always prepared ahead of time. They even have a QR code outside, instantly linking you to their online presence. These are modern simple things that FTSE100 corporations can’t seem to manage.


This Insta strategy started at the beginning of lockdown #1 as a response to high demand and low supply of essentials like loo roll, pasta and hand sanitizer, and has evolved into a brilliant part of their offering – loved by their customers.


Number two. The ‘Shop on the Hill’ has noticed a niche and capitalized.


Interesting, varied and delicious craft beers and wines are always going to be a winner in an area close enough to Highgate to be posh, but close enough to Hackney to be cool.


Every week there will be a new variety of wine, or a speciality beer announced on Instagram. There will be deals and discounts – but – and here’s where it gets clever – they’ll ask you to review, share what you thought, vote for your favourites via Instagram stories. They’ll then use that information to guide their supply, restocking the preferred options and local favourites in larger numbers and phase out what was less popular. Responding to the market 101 – opening up a (delicious) revenue stream and developing it.


A little bit of simple social media and a slight pivot in the business model have put them a nose ahead. And it wasn’t rocket science.


There’s an important message here. The Shop on the Hill is thriving at a time when others are struggling. Not through nefarious means, not by cutting costs and staff, not through government handouts – but through some smart thinking and adaptability. For that - you’ve got to hand it to them.


Toby Donaldson, Brand Consultant