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How a cheese merchant built a thriving business by listening to customers

3-minute read

Chance is often a bigger part of starting a business than we may like to admit.

Just ask Yannick Achim. Working in a cheese shop while studying economics at university led Achim to develop a passion for cheese. This passion grew to the point where he is now the owner of several thriving cheese stores in Quebec.

Building on excellence

Achim was only 23 when he bought his first cheese shop in the Laurentian town of Saint-Jérôme, north of Montreal. The business was losing steam and Mr. Achim worked for the next five years to make it profitable, under the name Fromagerie Yannick.

Achim expanded into Montreal in 2000, where he operates two shops. In 2010, he partnered with a Quebec City store, which also adopted the name.

Committed to customer service

Yannick Achim focuses on variety in his stores, offering more than 450 different cheeses, 125 of which are available on a daily basis. But customer service is what really makes his company stand out, he says.

“In general, the ratio in cheese shops is about 20% full-time employees to 80% part-timers,” Achim says. “We’re the opposite: 90% of our employees work full-time. They are cheese merchants, a term used in Europe. They are there to provide the customers with a shopping experience and give them advice. I’ve even started sending my employees on trips to broaden their knowledge.”

Catering to client needs

Adapting to customer tastes has been another secret to the company’s success. “The more we listen to our customers and the more we know about their preferences, the better equipped we are to respond to—and even help create—new consumer trends around particular products.”

Each of his stores also caters to its particular clientele by offering a unique selection of fine cheeses based on local market tastes.

“Being in different regions in Quebec, each one of our locations is in a market with its own specific demand and its own tastes,” he says. “So each one of our stores isn’t simply a ‘copy and paste’ of existing locations; each one has to be plugged into local tastes and offer a range of cheeses that differs from one location to the next.”

Keeping abreast of global trends

Like for other retailers, globalization has had a profound impact on Fromagerie Yannick. The products and consumer trends in the world of fine cheese often come from abroad. What’s the best way to stay informed?

Achim says he learns something new every day and enjoys travelling around Quebec and in Europe, meeting cheese makers and other artisans in the field.

He’s also become a jury member for some of the biggest cheese competitions in the world. “It has helped us to create a network of people from around the world with the same know-how as us, and who also have access to a wide range of fine cheeses,” says Achim. “It has allowed us to become plugged into what is happening in a wide range of markets in real time.”

Lessons Learned

  • Listen to your customers and understand their needs—Knowing and understanding customer needs is at the centre of every successful business. “Who are they?” “What do they buy?” and “Why do they buy it?” are key questions when you are designing and producing successful products or services.
  • Understand the factors shaping your market—Changing consumer needs, societal shifts, new technologies, emerging distribution channels or innovative production capabilities could profoundly change your market. For entrepreneurs, it’s important to understand these new trends and figure out how to adapt to them. It may help to visit other countries to understand where the market is headed.