For some independent businesses, market challenges can be the catalyst for change and innovation.
This is true for Stokes Tea & Coffee, a family of coffee roasters that has been operating for over 120 years. The Lincoln based company has a long history of supplying wholesale coffee, tea, machines, servicing and training, as well as operating some of the busiest cafés in the county. As one of the region’s most well-regarded SMEs, Stokes has seen its fair share of economic turbulence since its inception.
Nick Peel is the fourth generation in the family to lead the company and he shared his thoughts on some of the quick-wins for SMEs in 2023.
What’s the outlook for SMEs in 2023?
In the post pandemic period, hopes for a return to ‘normal’ have in the main, fallen on the wayside. The temptation to ‘make like an Ostrich’ as external factors batter businesses, may become all too strong. There’s no denying that whatever your news sources, the headlines make for grim reading. As New Year well-wishes fade, 2023 is set to be memorable, but not necessarily for the best reasons. Stating that there are economic headwinds right now is like describing a hurricane as a ‘gentle breeze’. Most business owners are bracing themselves for yet another historically challenging chapter in the precarious fortunes of great British businesses.
SMEs contribute 60% of jobs in the UK and help distribute wealth beyond city borders by bringing growth and innovation to local economies. So, it’s vital for entire communities that they make it through. It’s easy to batten down the hatches and fixate on Newtonian measures like numbers, reports, processes and so on, however, without people and relationships, no business would ever take place. In the current quantum age, uncertainty and individuality are accepted as important elements to not only manage but tap into to maintain and grow revenues, and market share too.
What are the quickest and most cost-effective ways to help a business meet current challenges?
Being independent and smaller can mean greater adaptability. There are definitely things in the toolkit that when put to work, can make all the difference. The obvious things on the list are to manage costs, increase efficiency and grow revenue.
It’s no secret that keeping clients and employees is the most cost-effective way to sustain any business. Especially, with the current staffing and economic hurdles. In fact, just a 5% increase in client retention can translate into increased revenues of between 25% and 95%, and 66% of employees who receive reward and recognition are reportedly more likely to stay loyal to their employer.
Along with must do’s like delivering a great service or product, listening to feedback and most importantly, acting on it, there are other, often overlooked actions ready to take your business to the next level, like making customers and teams feel appreciated and doing it in a way that communicates authenticity.
How are you helping your clients achieve greater customer and employee retention?
At the height of the pandemic, we developed new virtual experiences including coffee and tea tastings to help bring teams, colleagues or clients together, and share something memorable, unique and in real-time even though they couldn’t physically be together.
Specially designed kits and gift boxes are sent out to participants with everything they need prior to an event, including a virtual tour of our Stokes roastery. Invitees then join online and are taken through their experience by our Stokes Master Roaster. The uptake has been nothing short of mind-blowing, with local and global clients signing up, including some of the biggest companies like Microsoft. We even received recognition from the Evening Standard Magazine and an award from the Beverage Standards Association for our virtual events!
Why do you think this innovative product offer has been such a success?
There’s nothing more important to increase loyalty and retention than making teams and customers feel like they mean the world to you.
I think the biggest selling points are the personality and uniqueness of our offer. Being able to present something different, eco-friendly and artisanal has definitely helped our clients stand out from the crowd, and their event participants talk about their experiences long after they’ve happened. They love the fact that we are an historical, family company and prep everything by hand, just for them. Clients are moving away from the mass-produced, generic options with many asking us to send the tasting kits as gifts to their teams and customers.
This has led to us to developing our gifting options further, to create bespoke, branded gifts as unique as every client. It’s an effective way to build positive brand associations, show a company’s support for independent artisans and great British businesses, not to mention a community and environmental conscience.
Corporate gifts and experiences are an excellent way to retain, win and strengthen relationships. Demonstrating gratitude and appreciation for customers and colleagues can make all the difference to a business’ fortunes. We’re building our offering and as well as virtual experiences and gifts, we have added roastery tours and tastings for those wanting an ‘in person’ experience, as well as lots of other services like venue hire and event services. Every element has been designed to help our customers continue to build returns and loyalty from their clients and colleagues.