What would it be like if your non-profit would cease to exist without the support of a dedicated following?
This is the environment in which retailers exist. To survive, they must attract, build and sustain a loyal customer base. The same thing is true for many non-profits, of course, even though we tend to focus attention on our mission. When it comes to building and sustaining legions of devoted supporters, I think we can probably learn a lot from successful retailers.
Our constituents interact with retail businesses constantly and the nature of their experience determines whether or not they become regular customers. Even if your organization meets a unique need and does not face competition like a retailer, your constituents can still vote with their feet, choosing to stay involved or to drift away. That’s why I think we can learn from those whose livelihoods depend on building repeat business: successful retailers who are extremely focused on the quality of the customer experience.
As a case in point, consider Cherry Republic, based in Glen Arbor, Michigan. They sell cherry products, as do any number of other businesses in the region. For the uninitiated, we celebrate the fact that this part of Michigan produces the majority of tart cherries grown in the United States. Our airport is the “Cherry Capital Airport,” on New Year’s Eve they drop the CherryT Ball at midnight, and every July, Traverse City, Michigan welcomes tens of thousands of visitors to the National Cherry Festival, complete with the Cherry Festival Queen and her court. So with all the cherry options available, what keeps hoards of customers, including me, going back to Cherry Republic? More to the point, what can we learn from how they do business?
First and foremost, everything for sale at Cherry Republic is excellent, the best available. The product lines include staples (dried cherries, jams, pie) as well as the unexpected (cherry tortilla chips, anyone?) and they are constantly introducing new products. It may all be cherry related but that doesn’t mean you won’t find a great deal of variety in what is offered. In the world of non-profit organizations it is too easy to forget that high standards and innovation are what keep people coming back for more, whether as volunteers, participants, or donors.
The customer experience when you visit a Cherry Republic location is exceptional. The staff members are friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable. Each store, while unique in its own space, is welcoming and inviting, the essence of the “Up North” experience. Best of all, you are encouraged to help yourself to product samples, which are available in abundance. It’s impossible not to begin looking forward to your next visit almost as soon as you depart. The focus on creating a top-notch customer experience at Cherry Republic is unmistakable. The impact of our non-profit organizations can only grow if we can achieve similar success making volunteers and supporters feel welcome and well treated. Every interaction should fuel their desire to engage again.
Cherry Republic understands it has a role to play in the community and the world. They buy from local farmers, are committed to sustainability, and regularly make gifts to support various charitable projects in the area. They’re proud of the region and are tireless champions, boosters and supporters. This is a lesson that is all too easy to forget in the non-profit world: our supporters feel better about our organization when we choose to partner with others. The more we help others become strong, the stronger we become.
Cherry Republic also does a great job of sustaining the relationships they build with their customers through their communications. Their Facebook page, each newsletter, every catalog and their videos capture the quirky originality of the business, reflect the company’s values, and makes the recipient feel like an insider by sharing news from the owner’s family. That personal sharing is very important to building a strong, personal connection. The team at Cherry Republic isn’t afraid to speak in the first person or to humanize the enterprise. We can, and should, do the same for our non-profit organizations.
These practices all stem from Cherry Republic’s stated core values: generosity; (to) touch every customer; (have) fun with cherries; (demonstrate) cherries are the greatest of all the fruits; our uniqueness is our strength; and we are of the North. Does your organization do a good job of sharing its core values with its workers? Are those core values a part of your daily work?
I’m sure that there are more lessons to be learned from other successful retailers. Do you know of a great business from which we can learn? Please leave a note in the comments section. And do yourself a favor…even if you can’t get Up North to visit Cherry Republic in person, surf on over to their website and order up some delicious treats – it’s all good if it’s from the great Cherry Republic.
(Note - this post is based on my observations; no payment, product or services were provided to AdvancementSynergy in exchange for this content.)