Organisation Name: La Tienda
Web References: latienda.com
Name of Contact: Jonathan Harris, President and Creative Director
Description of how social media is used for business performance
Ibérico ham from Spain is one of the most expensive hams in the world. The ham, made from celebrated pigs lovingly cared for in the Spanish countryside, is a big deal for many. So when a customer of La Tienda, received a shipment of ham he felt was overly fatty, he posted a picture on the company’s Facebook page. When he saw the picture, La Tienda’s President and Creative Director Jonathan Harris sprang to action, “we were able to contact the supplier who stepped up and paid for a replacement to be sent. And the interaction was visible to any visitor, so they could witness our way of serving our customers”.
Jonathan Harris in Spain with purebred Ibérian pigs © La Tienda
La Tienda (“The Store” in Spanish) is an online retailer of Spanish products. The company’s catalogue features over 1,000 artisanal products including charcuterie, canned fish, sweets and ceramics. Sustainability is important. It’s a family business with deep personal roots. Jonathan’s father Don Harris, first travelled to Spain as a U.S. Army Chaplain in the 1960s. In the early 70s, he was stationed at an American base located in the south of Spain with his wife and three sons. Establishing and growning an artisanal food business is hard work but today, sons Jonathan and Tim run the family business which, includes a store and event space in Williamsburg, Virginia, in addition to the website. This introductory video captures the warmth and character of this family business:
La Tienda hit the internet in 1996, making it an e-commerce pioneer along with giants like Amazon. In those early days when everyone was trying to figure out on line business and social media, Jonathan and his colleagues a La Tienda quickly saw how it could work for the company. “…Social media allows us to tell a fuller story, and helps our brand by communicating our passion for the culture and the products…it [also] provides an invaluable space to interact directly with our customers and for them to share information with each other.”
But a couple of years ago, the company made a change to its social media strategy. “… We decided to change the tone of our engagement and focus on bigger themes – supplier and product stories, broader cultural information, and our engagement with partners in Spain. This allowed more people to comment and respond.” It may not have been obvious at the time, but Jonathan and the company had taken the first step towards applying social media to their supply chain.
Graphic © David Weaver
Applying social media to a supply chain may sound like something better suited to a large company where social media can provide a way for people in different areas to exchange information about products and services. But creating a connection or relationship (in this instance brokered by the retailer) between consumer and supplier is also a perfect fit for a smaller artisanal goods company. In addition to educating the consumer, the supplier information can make a consumer feel connected to the source – even one thousands of miles away. One can also imagine a foodie delighting friends with stories of a cheese or cookie created using a century’s old method or recipe. In the case of the ham that was too fatty, the transparency that comes from solving a problem in plain view of everyone along La Tienda’s supply chain went a long way to strengthening the company’s relationship with the supplier as well as creating trust for everyone who is a part of the chain.
Direct feedback from a customer can also provide an opportunity for a supplier to improve a product. According to Jonathan, “… Comments from customers are always shared with [suppliers], which can be very useful. And often negative comments can be the most productive, because we have the opportunity to engage with the customer and supplier to solve product quality concerns.
For foodie and La Tienda customer Mercedes Segura, information on the supplier has an added benefit, “I like knowing where the products come from and a little about who made them,” she says. “It reassures me about authenticity and quality.”
La Tienda, customers may also consider stories of the Spanish farmers or craftspeople who supply products part of the experience of purchasing and consuming or using that product. For people who have lived in Spain or spent time there, the information may help evoke memories of a wonderful vacation or meal they experienced while in the country. Forbes also recently reported that millennial consumers want adventure and are looking for an “experiential” retail environment when they shop. Applying social media to the supply chain helps create this environment.
In what must be one of the best jobs in the world, one of Jonathan’s duties as Creative Director involves making regular trips to Spain. “We take the time create personal relationships with our partners … and to visit the kitchens and curing rooms where the products are made”. The strength of these relationships is evident in the company’s online catalogue. The page on the company’s exceptional Manchego cheese includes charming detail on suppliers the Villajos family — it transports the reader.
The site also includes a “Meet the Artisans” page, featuring short paragraphs on a group of individual suppliers. Each of these is cleverly linked to a page where customers can make purchases. This type of information may also help attract travelers or fans of the Spanish culture to the site, and there is always the chance these visits could result in sales.
Jonathan admits that the language barrier may make it difficult for some of his suppliers to tweet or post on Facebook. This high quality video, however, which is posted on La Tienda’s YouTube Channel, proves that sometimes pictures are all you need to get the message across:
The video offers customers expert advice on the preparation of anchovies from a company that has 75 years of experience. Because it is posted on La Tienda’s YouTube channel, the video also creates a connection between La Tienda and a trusted, established brand.
The anchovy video delivers a simple message, but a website, Facebook page or Twitter feed that is active is one people will visit often. Videos, photos or information posted by suppliers – or anyone along the supply chain—keeps everyone engaged. It’s an effective way to keep social media accounts buzzing and up to date — and it’s cost effective. Jonathan found that the move towards including larger themes on the company’s social media pages made it possible for the small company to make “ better use of our precious labour resources”.
The information offered on social media by suppliers is also an opportunity to create stories that can be developed as posts on Facebook or company blogs. For example, the story of a supplier who cannot deliver one year because his/her product has been ruined by bad weather, can make for a provocative comeback story that everyone on the supply chain can contribute to. Consumers may follow the posts, creating return traffic. The transparency of a story and resulting familiarity with the supplier may heighten a product’s profile and have a positive impact on sales.
Also, when dealing with artisanal suppliers using age-old methods, the photos, videos and information posted on manufacturing or growing processes can provide an important historical record and create assets that can be reused.
According to Jonathan, La Tienda is flourishing and growing. He expects the company to ship 100,000 packages this coming year. He also feels social media and the online market place continue to offer opportunities. “The Internet is always changing, there’s always something new to pivot to.”
If this post has made you hungry for Spanish cuisine, check out this podcast. It features a no cook recipe for a Spanish staple: Bread with Tomatoes and Olive oil. Enjoy and Buen Provecho!
Lessons for Others
Applying social media to the supply chain may not be an obvious fit for a small or medium sized company, but for firms selling artisanal or specialty products, doing so can strengthen the relationship between the retailer and supplier as well as create new relationships between supplier and customer. These relationships could benefit everyone the supply chain as well as creating trust, improved products and profits ans well as opportunities to create social media content that may strengthen a brand and its profile.
Submitted By: Pilar Segura
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