What Publishers Can Learn from My Local Greek Grocer

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

I live in the suburbs, where there aren’t many real ethnic groceries around. But there’s one little Greek grocery store I’ve driven past since it opened a couple of years ago, and I recently went in to check it out for the first time. By the time I walked out, I knew the owner, Maik, was on to something many publishers are just beginning to figure out.

I’ve been to Greece five or six times, and it’s one of my favorite places to go. Whenever I visit I try to go local, experiencing the country outside the tourist meccas of Athens and Mykonos. I love the food and the people and have picked up a few Greek phrases for interacting with the locals—“please,” “thank you,” “you’re welcome,” “good morning,” “good evening,” and “cold water”.

As soon as I walked into the tiny store, Maik, greeted me and began asking question as I walked around. I mentioned to him that I have visited Greece, and we talked about the islands I had been to, how I would love to get some good taramasalata that’s so hard to find in the U.S., how much I loved the coffee. He immediately and enthusiastically told me about the taramasalata he sells and that if I like that traditional briny spread I would also absolutely love the authentic tzaziki he makes himself every morning.

Sold on both counts!

direct-to-consumer publishers ebooks greek grocer murray izenwasser

The “briki” I bought to brew Greek coffee, on the expert recommendation of my grocer, Maik.

Maik then showed me the bag of coffee I should buy if I liked the real Greek kind. Sold! But if I wanted to brew authentic Greek coffee, he said, I would need to buy the right equipment, which includes a little metal cup called a “briki.” Sold!

He actually took me into the back of his store and showed me how to make it, using a little camping burner he had had set up, because “you really needed to make it over a flame, not an electric stove.” He didn’t sell the camp stove himself but told me where to get a setup just like his (the camping section at Walmart, actually). Sold again!

Maik told me all about his business—how he was retired and was constantly bringing products in from Greece for himself and the people he knows. And for him, it’s really not all about the profit but about his passion for Greek food and culture and helping others more fully enjoy the products themselves. That’s what really gives him joy.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Keep in mind that I am not an impulse buyer—at all. I just went in to check the store out, figuring that if I could find a little jar of tarama, I’d buy it for $4–5 and be done. $40 later, I left the store happy as a clam (and then stopped at Walmart to purchase the little camp stove), and I’ve enjoyed my cup of Greek coffee almost every morning since. And you bet I’m going back to get some more when I run out.

By now the correlation to publishers and building direct-to-consumer programs should be pretty plain. It would have been so easy for me to walk in the store and browse around without Maik saying a word to me. Maybe I’d have purchased something, maybe not. Then I’d have walked out, and Maik wouldn’t have had any idea who I was or what else he could have sold me.

But he started asking me questions, talking with me, learning my interests—and based on that information, giving me expert suggestions for other things I would absolutely love, whether they were items he could sell me or ones I could find elsewhere but would enhance my experience.

He literally took me into the back of his business, showed me how it worked and made me feel like I was a part of what he does. His enthusiasm and knowledge of a topic that I’m enthusiastic and slightly knowledgeable about filled me with a desire to, basically, help him out with his business. And he didn’t care if he sent me to another store to purchase part of what would improve my experience.

If you are a publisher of any size, from the largest to the smallest, I’m guessing you have a deep love for books, an incredible trove of knowledge and a passion to disseminate that love and knowledge—especially for the books you publish.

Publishers are fond of pointing out that they do something special. They don’t sell tube socks or light-bulbs. They’re purveyors of great stories and powerful ideas that certain readers are as enthusiastic about as they are.

So the questions for publishers become: Do you really get to know your customers? Do you understand which ones harbor tremendous excitement for which content?

Do you offer personalized suggestions or advice? Do you let your customers know how you feel about what you do? Do you bring them into the back of your business and make them a part of it? What do you actually do to turn them into fans? Do you know what your customers are really looking for and help them get it? Then give them a reason to come back for more?

Are you like Maik?

Or do you just let them walk in, browse around—maybe they buy something, maybe they don’t—and then walk out?

Over the long term, which approach better secures the viability and profitability of your business? And what are you going to do about it?

Let me know in the comments below what you have been doing or are planning to do to embrace your readers and make them feel like they are part of your business.

4 thoughts on “What Publishers Can Learn from My Local Greek Grocer

  1. Marcus Parsons

    Murray,

    Unless you can develop it further, your advice seems not very useful. As a longtime business owner and — like anyone — a customer at other businesses, I, too, know the value of the heartfelt, knowledgeable, personal touch. But as an indie author (squeezeshot.org) who, like most, is coming out of nowhere seeking readers, I find that truth hard to develop. If I could sell my book person-to-person, one-to-one, no problem. Maybe set up a booth at farmers markets, or a table on the sidewalk outside my house, like a child selling lemonade? Or go door-to-door, ebook in hand (iPad!)? Stand outside bookstores {;-)? Or — ? Some such approach (obviously not farmers market, sidewalk sales, etc.) could be fun, certainly personal. Humbling, too, but it would find some readers/buyers, one at a time. But it begs a question, for you: How scale up such a personal approach to reach numbers of readers, too many to deal with one-to-one?

    Reply
    1. Murray Izenwasser

      Hi Marcus – I’m definitely not talking about going door-to-door or standing outside bookstores. 🙂

      And, yes, it is quite the seemingly daunting task to build that audience from scratch. But it can be done. Who are the readers who would be most interested in your books? Where do they congregate online and on social platforms? What can you add to their conversations – not selling, but maybe helping them find great content by curating other content? Create an on-going content generation program that engages your fans (however small that audience is, to start). Find out (literally on a personal level) what they are looking for, and help them find it – or create it for them.

      Start off with a goal of finding 100 people who become your fans, and then continually add 1 or 2 more every day. It is a long-term program, and it won’t happen overnight. But if you are consistent about it, and truly engage with your readers/fans, over time it will grow. You are building it for next year.

      Reply
  2. Meri

    Hi Murray,

    great article! That’s such a memorable story too. I’m not sure that this would be a great lesson for publishers to learn with direct-to-consumer in mind, however – I would have thought more for bookshops with their range and variety?

    Meri

    Reply
    1. Murray Izenwasser

      Hi Meri – thanks for the comment.

      I actually think that publishers (especially, niche/independent/genre publishers) have such a tremendous base of knowledge and love for what they publish, that they are perfectly suited to build such an engagement level with their customers/readers. Especially when partnering with their authors (see tomorrow’s post), such a publisher can build an incredibly engaging program. From my own personal experience, most people don’t walk into a bookstore and say “I’m looking for a book. Can you recommend one?” but rather say something like “I’m looking for a SciFi/Romance/Mystery/History/Biography/etc book? Is there anything you would recommend?” Who better to own that conversation than a publisher in that genre?

      Reply

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