How the European Pantry is using digital to grow its worldly offerings beyond Niagara region
While grocery stores seem to be getting bigger to hold their sprawling product lists, The European Pantry manages to compress the whole of Europe into its modest shop a few doors down from the farmer’s market in Welland. And it does it well.
“One of the things I learned I've learned in business is that you can’t just sell one type of bacon – you’ve got to be the place to go to get bacon,” says Jacqui Eisen, who opened The European Pantry alongside her husband John in 1997. That’s been their goal ever since: to be the go-to for specialty products and decor from The Netherlands, Hungary, Germany, France, Scandinavia, and the rest of the “old world.”
“John’s parents started a Dutch grocery store in 1964,” says Eisen. “So he grew up in the business.” It was a time when the European delicatessens in Canada would bring the food right to you, often as a travelling pantry of sorts. The European Pantry has slowly evolved its curated collection of European groceries from a delivery model to bricks and mortar but delivery is still a key part of the business. Eisen says they’ve been slowly trying to change that by investing in their digital presence.
“The website becomes an opportunity to really build-up the overall brand,” says The European Pantry co-owner. The business has leveraged resources, training videos and two Digital Transformation Grants from Digital Main Street. The program combines grants and one-to-one support from the Province of Ontario alongside partners like Google to help main street businesses strengthen their online capabilities and plan for the digital future.
“When I applied the first time, I didn't want just a website that was set-up,” says Eisen. She didn’t like the idea of having to go to someone every time she needed to make a change. “I wanted more like a personal trainer who could do the IT stuff that I couldn't do and train me so that I could maintain the website myself.”
Since focusing on the business’ digital brand, Eisen says she’s seen a spike in online orders. “We probably have 1,300 products listed at this point,” she says. “And what happens now is that people Google something and we’re popping up all the time… and we will keep getting better at it.”
Eisen has also been trying to write regular content for the website to talk about the products they bring in from across Europe and reflect on her experiences. She sees it as a magazine of sorts to connect with like-minded people and potentially bring more customers through the door. But it’s a lot, it’s always going to be a lot to run a full-time business and manage the website and keep the products updated.
“It's a matter of just keeping at it… I have to remind myself, we’re already seeing really good growth, just give yourself a break – Rome wasn't built in a day, you know?” she says. “But I have all these ideas of how I want to build it up.”
Written by Andrew Seale
Digital Main Street was created by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) with direct support from the City of Toronto. DMS is also supported by a group of strategic business partners, including Google, Mastercard, Shopify, Microsoft, Facebook, Intuit QuickBooks, Square, Yellow Pages and Lightspeed.
A $42.5-million investment from FedDev Ontario brought together the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, Communitech, Invest Ottawa and the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association to expand the Digital Main Street Platform in order to support more businesses going digital as a response to the impacts of COVID-19 in Southern Ontario.