Musing: Delicatessen Magazine (April 2019)

After a meeting with Chris McNeill – editor of The Delicatessen Magazine – in the margins of the January 2018 Scottish Speciality Food Show in Glasgow, Mr Deli was excited to be asked to write a regular column for this increasingly influential independent trade publication.

In the latest of his regular columns, Mr Deli turns small business norms on their head by thinking smaller not bigger. Less is definitely more

(read Mr Deli’s previous column here)





It is 60 years since Julian Koenig wrote the copy for Volkswagen’s ‘Think Small’ campaign, which took the VW Beetle across the Atlantic to compete with the muscle cars which dominated the US market. It was a brave move to do the opposite of what was expected. A small compact offer versus a traditional big model.

 ‘Small’ is often treated as counter-intuitive in business.

 The imperative seems to be to scale ‘up’. Build, build, build your (‘small’) business, grow bigger, think bigger, act bigger.

 In our delicatessen life, we go out of our way to do the opposite. We’re not being obtuse, although we do rather relish the fact that we are not particularly ‘retail’. No, our take is that small can also mean growth. Small can also be a business benefit. ‘Smaller’ could be the new ‘bigger’.

So, what does our ‘small’ look like?

Well, for certain, it’s mostly about small producers. By small we mean our local chocolate maker, preserves made just down the road in a copper pot from handwritten notes in a grandfather’s cookbook; it’s the farmer’s son who’s diversified to make award-winning biltong … the honey producer with only 140 hives who struggles to keep up with demand for their alchemy and the kitchen table business in the Black Mountains which is built upon the treasures of the hedgerows. We seek out the gin that is made in the smallest of batches, which we run out of because the still has to await the next foraging trip. We wait patiently for the local brewer who takes time to barrel-age his experimental beers. Our heart soars because our local baker takes Mondays off for family time … “Sorry, no bread on Monday” has never felt so positive.

Small is good. Small is personal. Small is niche.

Small affords us the opportunity to keep things tight … we work with the people we discover whose work we love. Our job is to be as passionate about sharing their product with our customers as they would be themselves. Small builds relationships and deepens connections. It stops us spreading ourselves too thin.

Weirdly, we still get the routine calls from regional sales managers and local reps offering us the monthly specials that “your customers are going to LOVE” in spite of  never falling for the hot cross bun fudge or the heart-shaped cheeses much-loved by the seasonal retail carousel.

If it gets too big, we get edgy. We will happily applaud the small crisp maker for their multi-million dollar takeover by a huge multinational … but we’ll use it as a trigger to seek out the farmers who’ve packed their great tastes and lovely crunch into 100% domestically compostable bags. Small also means agile.

We pay our small producers the price they ask for … we don’t squeeze them to make more margin (ok, so the accountant told us off for our relatively modest margins but we can live with that!) … we pay quickly … for the micro businesses, our small bank transfer is what allows them to do their thing. Building long-term relationships founded on trust is so much easier when you keep things small.

Our little enterprise turned 3 and a half years old a couple of weeks back. When we started, we hankered after a few folk hanging out in the garden sampling a Welsh-roasted specialty coffee and Mrs Deli’s cakes. We counted the numbers of people who came in and wished for more. Slowly … organically … word got out … the ‘Secret’ Garden isn’t so secret. There was ‘that’ night where 27 people squished into a space set up for fewer. We ran around a lot, rushed our service, chased our tails and slumped exhausted and frustrated when we finally got home after washing up what seemed like a thousand glasses.

So we resolved to get even smaller.

Smaller gatherings. More intimate evenings. Less being the very epitome of more.

We took tables and chairs out.

We reduced the number of tickets sold.

We made life smaller. As a consequence, we stand a chance of being part of what is happening; we get to be the connection between the people who hang out with us and the great tastes and food stories we introduce them to.

Smaller …

… better …

More connected.


Now Mr Deli has to get his thinking cap on for his next column … anything you’d like to know about our small business life that you’d love him to muse about?