Wednesday, February 22

Don't be too foreign!


I was very pleased to see this article in HN, about the English (actually Scottish) butcher, Chris Robertson, whom we also recommend on our pages. Like many British expats in Prague I am a long-time loyal customer of Chris's shops.He has been here a long time, and there are a number of things to learn from his experience about how a foreign-owned business in the Czech Republic should present itself.

The most striking thing about Chris's business is how "Czech" it is. If you visit his shop in Nusle, its appearance from the outside is of a typical Czech butcher. He has therefore resisted the approach of, for example, the French baker Paul, which screams "French" at you. He could have made it look like a modern English butcher's shop, but did not do so. As a result, many Czechs, including my brother-in-law, have been regular customers without ever realising that it was the "English butcher". I have never discussed this with Chris but it seems to me that he has realised that even in Prague, many Czech customers may be put off by something that is too unfamiliar, even if it looks attractive.

However when I told some Czechs that they had actually been in the "English butcher', a typical reaction was "Aha...I wondered why it is so clean and the staff so polite". His commitment to quality is uncompromising, but he does not make a big noise about it. Take his attitude to lamb. He has told me that he would like to always stock lamb, because British people know good lamb, and more Czechs are returning to it. But he has trouble with suppliers. They are unreliable, and he does not want to stock something unless he can always have it available - because he doesn't want people to have a wasted journey. By the way, it seems things have improved, as he now seems to have a regular supply of fresh Czech lamb, and the chops are excellent! He tells me that supply problems are the reason why he doesn't stock game. There is a butcher in Dejvice who does, but you never know when or exactly what they will have, because the butcher does not know for sure either.

His understated approach to marketing is also evident when we consider the new fashionable food label : Bio. Chris doesn't do bio. When I asked him if his fresh chickens were organic (Bio) he answered clearly. "No. They would not pass the UK tests which allow you to call them Bio. But I have been to the farm, and they are reared in better conditions than 99% of chickens in this country, they are outside and feeding naturally. And you will taste the difference". And he's right. And they are reasonably priced too. In this way, he quietly builds up trust with his customers.

The final key to success - and this is where he makes me feel ashamed - is that Chris speaks excellent Czech, and all his staff are Czech. As are the prices of his typical Czech meats. It means that the staff can explain the more ‘exotic' products to the type of customer who would feel intimidated by Fruits de France or Marks and Spencer. Chris wants Czech customers, and knows he has to give them what they want; and in a butcher, a lot of customers want a familiar environment. The foreign shops are described by many Czechs as being for ‘snobs'; Chris's approach avoids that, and yet he succeeds in persuading conservative Czech customers to try new foods.

So the Robertson success story is an interesting lesson for foreigners in marketing to Czechs: Don't be too noisy. Don't make promises you can't keep. And don't be too foreign!

Some of my favourites from Robertson:
Fresh sirloin or rib-eye beefsteaks, from Aberdeen Angus cattle (the ones with long hair) in South Bohemia
English recipe sausages from his own Czech pigs
Fresh lamb
Various English cheeses (not just the boring Cheddar you find in Tesco)
"London Pride" or "Bishops Finger"; great English (brown) beers
Pimms - the classic English summer cocktail drink - mix it with Ginger beer



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