Sometimes, creating a brand identity can seem to be the most elusive part of building a small business. For many small business owners, their brand identity tends to be a reflection of themselves. But what happens when you step into a business that already exists — with its own history, culture, marketing routine, and a brand identity that’s inconsistent across marketing channels?

We sat down with cheesemonger Steve Dahlgren of The Concord Cheese Shop in Concord, Massachusetts (aka The Cheese Shop), to find out how he’s been handling that exact situation.

While talking with Steve, we discussed: 

  • Where the shop’s branding was when he joined the team
  • Why and how he made changes
  • How his efforts are affecting the shop so far
  • What he’s excited to try next 

In this article, I’m going to share with you what we learned.

Before we get started though, let me tell you a little bit about The Cheese Shop and what makes a brand.

About The Concord Cheese Shop

“The most important aspect of The Cheese Shop is that we really care. We care about the product and the consumer…at the end of the day, we’re a ‘family’ that really cares about each other and the products that we curate because we care about the consumer.”

– Steve Dahlgren,  self-proclaimed “guy who loves cheese”

Prior to my introduction to The Cheese Shop, my experience with purchasing cheese was limited to either mulling through the meager cheese selection at my local grocery store or finding a snooty, high-end shop where the person behind the counter always seemed too busy to actually help me find any cheese, much less the right cheese.

So, when I was told that I would love The Cheese Shop, I was skeptical, but hopeful. Luckily, The Shop was much more than I could have hoped for.

Walking into The Cheese Shop is like walking into your best friend’s kitchen — if your best friend is a lively food-loving cheese aficionado with a penchant for feeding everyone really great food. 

Everyone who works at The Shop not only loves cheese and food, but also loves to feed people great food — from the owner, Peter, to the holiday staff. 

Besides having the largest array of cheeses that I’ve ever seen in one place, The Shop is filled with delectable treats, mouthwatering tidbits, and a beautiful assortment of wines. If that wasn’t enough, they have a deli with staff that makes you feel like Norm from Cheers and sandwiches so scrumptious that making a decision on having just one for lunch is not easy. 

My first visit to The Cheese Shop was also my introduction to both the owner, Peter, and Steve, the senior cheesemonger. And while Peter talked to me about how he got started in the business, what the shop and its customers mean to him, as well as his philosophies on life and business, Steve talked to me about cheese. 

When I approached the counter, number in hand, he smiled and asked me how I was. He didn’t jump into any sales pitch on the latest cheese or regale me with how much he knew about cheese. Instead, he just started a casual conversation about what brought me in.

Despite the fact that the shop was packed with customers, Steve made me feel like I was the only customer there. He took his time, answered my questions, offered up samples of any (and every) cheese I wanted to try. He even asked me questions about what I planned to use the cheeses for. 

The brand of The Cheese Shop

While this may seem like a nice tale of my first visit to the shop, this is actually what a brand is. 

A brand, simply put, is the impression that a business gives others. 

My impression of The Cheese Shop was friendly, knowledgeable, and personable. Shopping there was an experience like none other, and one that might entice me to spend some extra time (versus a trip to the grocery store for some cheese), but the time spent there was not only enjoyable but also educational. 

More than that, I felt like I was among friends. Friends that I could trust to steer me in the right direction — whether it was what the best wine would be to pair with a three-cheese grilled sandwich (my favorite) or what to take to my new neighbors’ holiday party that wouldn’t make me look like a complete idiot.

So, how does one translate all of that into a cohesive brand?

Thanks to Steve, The Cheese Shop has done a wonderful job of successfully tying everything they are into one cohesive brand. Let’s take a look at how he did it.

The problem with the brand

When Steve started working at The Cheese Shop, approximately a year and a half ago, he came on to be a “kind of a lead cheesemonger, and assistant G.M. [General Manager],” which quickly turned into what he claims was an opportunity to give himself even more work by getting his hands dirty and getting involved in everything.

We asked Steve what the most important thing for people to know about The Cheese Shop was, and his response was not a surprise.

“We’re a family that cares. We care about each other and the products we curate because we care about the consumer… Yeah, we sell products, but we’re really about an experience and relationship… about sharing the love and passion for food and feeding people.”

It seems like the brand is pretty clear, so why did Steve feel like he needed to change things?

“I was blown away by the disconnect of all of the platforms the shop was trying to use for their online marketing. The disconnect between each of the platforms and even the disconnect from the actual shop. It wasn’t cohesive. The online presence wasn’t personable. It wasn’t inviting. It was a bit outdated, disconnected, and it didn’t make a lot of sense. It wasn’t like the shop, and it wasn’t consistent.”

The problem was that there seemed to be no direction for their online marketing efforts. “Each piece had its own personality, and it seemed like that personality changed every three days.”

Something had to be done.

Where to start when revamping a brand

When a new business is starting out, everything is fresh and new. When creating a new brand, you get to start from scratch and then tweak things as you go along. Steve didn’t have that luxury. The Concord Cheese Shop already had a website, email marketing, and social media profiles in place. 

They weren’t gaining followers and subscribers, and Steve knew that he had to redo almost everything. “We had to remold what was a complete disaster…undo the negative and then turn it into the positive.”

So, where did they start?

“We focused on email first and then, because our customers were traditionally older, affluent individuals and we wanted to even out our clientele by bringing in younger generations, we moved on to Facebook because it’s hyper-local and Instagram to reach the influencers. The hard part was persuading coworkers on the importance of online marketing… that we needed to centralize the marketing with one person, create a schedule, and stick to it. And to stop putting things out there just for the sake of putting something out there.”

Revamping a brand

In order to get things to be consistent, the first thing Steve did was switch all of their online marketing efforts to be created, organized, and managed on one device. That allowed the creation of a single image filter, which they use on every image to create a consistent, recognizable look and feel across all of their marketing platforms. 

Next, they decided to post only once a day, with a theme. For his themes, Steve chose the four things that define The Cheese Shop: 

  1. Peter, the owner with a personality that is almost as big as his heart
  2. Crucolo, a cheese so great they throw a parade for it
  3. The staff, amazing individuals who embody the brand
  4. The food, about which poems have probably been written

According to Steve, due to the restrictions caused by COVID-19, “The hardest struggle has been finding ways to bring the in-person experience element of the brand online, so people don’t feel completely disconnected from the experience of The Cheese Shop.” 

To address this, Steve and the staff have been taking little videos of moments in the shop to share online. “We’ve also started holding virtual wine tastings, as well as virtual cheese and chocolate classes. We create the platters for the registrants, they come and pick them up, and then join the class online.”

When we asked Steve what tools he used to revamp the shop’s brand, I expected him to start listing the types of technical gear he’s been using but his response was completely different.

“Honestly, Constant Contact has been huge in revamping the brand. I’ve enjoyed using the platform for not only email but to create multiple social ads in one place. It saves time, makes the process efficient, and helps target market for specific items. The email templates and tools have been especially helpful in creating a theme that was not only great but helped to inspire the aesthetic on Facebook and Instagram.”

Instagram: concordcheese

How revamping the brand affected the shop

“The most noticeable thing is that when COVID-19 hit, it didn’t crush us. Three shops in our community closed, but we kept going. Not only were we able to pivot in ways that helped our community, but because we had a consistently branded online presence, we were able to communicate that information to our customers.”

Even with everything going on, there was one change that Steve seemed most excited about.

Our customer demographics changed. While the majority of our customers were mostly 45-75 year-olds, hyper-local, and mostly female, with a small percentage in the male and female 25-45 and 18-25 categories, our demographic has really evened out. Now, our under-45 category comprises almost the same percentage of our customers as the 45-75 group. We’ve successfully translated our brand across the different platforms in a way that we’re now capturing the next generation of customers.”

The Cheese Shop has managed to do exactly what Steve had hoped to accomplish by revamping the brand. They’ve “created a generational experience.”

What’s next in revamping the brand

With all that Steve and the staff at The Cheese Shop have accomplished with their branding this last year, Steve says they are not done. “We’re starting phase one of our YouTube channel. We’re working on reformatting and then relaunching. Right now, we’re creating tons of content with series’ of videos with different themes and The Cheese Shop aesthetic. After that, we’ll be putting up an online shop, adding apparel in the fall… I’m looking forward to trying out Constant Contact’s shoppable features for ecommerce.”

So, what advice does Steve have for other small businesses considering a rebrand or who are looking to elevate the presentation of the brand online?

“Consistency. Not by doing the same thing over and over again but be open to change. Figure out what your theme is, what your message is, and then translate that to the [platform]. And listen to your consumers’ feedback — both good and bad. Listen to your staff. If you have a culture, that’s important to share on social media. Communicate. Think outside the box. Don’t be afraid to be unorthodox. Stand out. Have a plan. Experiment until you find the right consistency…model. When it feels right, you’ll know.”

Fitting advice from a shop that not only managed to successfully revamp a brand for online marketing in roughly a year but also hosts what is likely the world’s only parade for a single wheel of cheese — the Crucolo Parade.