In another life, Shawn Crouse worked in the technology sector as a business development executive. In this field, client acquisition and retention rely on a few crucial elements: a sound product, communicating the value of and how to best use that product, and forming close personal relationships with the clients who use it in order to best serve them.
Shawn brought all of these skills to his blossoming business Go Go Grocer when he found Dumpling and entered the personal shopping space. But he places special emphasis on the last one.
“There’s nothing more important than forming a rapport with clients,” Shawn said. “You really have to fine-tune your relationships with them.”
Living outside the Boston metropolitan area, Shawn serves a very diverse clientele. One day he could be delivering to customers in rural areas. The next, he’ll be tooling around the city serving up groceries and other products to the dorms and apartments of the many students attending college in Boston’s higher-education hub.
And Shawn uses his personality to build trust and personalize the shopping experience for all of his customers.
The “Chopped” Challenge and Shawn’s Secret Ingredient
There are many anecdotes from Shawn’s personal shopping experiences that exemplify how much confidence his clients have in him, but one really stands out. Shawn had been delivering to a group of roommates for a bit, and he would regularly talk with them about his love for international cuisine.
“One day, they told me they welcomed a new roommate from China,” Shawn said. “So they wanted to know if I’d be willing to visit some Asian markets and other stores for them.”
Of course, Shawn agreed to this. After all, visiting specialty markets was, well, one of his specialties. Then, the roommates said they wanted to run something else by him.
“They told me they were going to have a first-annual roommate Chopped challenge where they’d give me a discretionary budget to gather the secret ingredients,” Shawn said. “They were scared that I’d find it weird of them to ask, but I was honored. One of the roommates told me ‘I trust your taste, and I know you’ll be great at shopping for this challenge.’”
So Shawn got to shopping. He noticed that the known items on the roommate’s order had a seafood theme, so Shawn decided he’d go that direction for the secret ingredient.
“The specialty store I went to had just gotten an order of fresh seafood items in,” Shawn said. “And then I saw these gigantic whole squid. They were huge! And I knew that those were going to be part of the challenge.”
The squid were a hit, and Shawn guessed the roommates’ competition was heated. But he knew for sure that his relationship with those clients was cemented.
“Most people won’t trust a delivery person from, say, Amazon to do this type of thing,” Shawn said. “I know I wouldn’t give someone I didn’t know a discretionary budget to do with what they’d like. But because I had a rapport with them, because they knew about my love of food and cooking, they had faith in me.”
Developing Best Practices by Listening to Customers
The amount of advice about business best practices out there could fill volumes of books (even libraries), and it does. But Shawn would likely say that communicating and forming bonds should top any best practices list.
“No matter what business you’re in, the idea is the same: Keep the customer happy,” Shawn said. “There are many ways of doing that, but I think communication is at the forefront. That’s how you get to know customers. That’s how you know what makes them happy.”
Like most effective personal shoppers, Shawn keeps an open line of communication throughout the shop. He maintains a back-and-forth and lets customers know what’s in or out of stock, informs them of substitution options or deals, and the like. To Shawn, though, the most important exchange between him and clients comes after the job is done and the groceries are in a client’s fridge.
“I focus a lot on the post-shopping experience,” he said. “I want to be sure I was on-point with their expectations and they got everything they wanted.”
Shawn noted this really goes a long way in getting to know his clients and what they want in a personal shopper. It also helps him make adjustments to his approach to better serve his clientele.
“It’s much harder to get a new customer than it is to keep an existing customer,” he said. “So if you keep them happy, keep the communication open, and make sure that everything was as they wanted it, it’s a big help.”
Branding and Understanding Market Diversity
Before he welcomed many clients, Shawn really focused on branding. From his experience in the tech business world, he knew that little differentiators really make a difference in crowded and competitive markets.
“Initially, I worked really hard on developing my logo and making branded shirts. My wife even joked with me and asked if I was ever going to deliver anyone’s groceries,” Shawn laughed.
But, ultimately, this really paid off.
“I wanted to stand out and make my business look completely different,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll ask a customer how he or she found me, and often it’s because they saw my logo on my shirt in the store. One client was looking for a faster delivery service, and she said my logo for Go Go Grocer just looked and sounded speedy!”
Shawn also noted that it’s proven important to understand his market’s demographics. While he serves customers in the greater metropolitan area of Boston, Shawn also delivers to areas well outside the city, as he resides about 20 miles away from the city’s center.
This means Shawn’s customer base is pretty disparate. It also means he can source a wider variety of stores to better meet customer needs.
“There are a lot of small farms and specialty stores in my area that I list on my site,” he said. “So I can list, say, Idlewild Farms on my site, which is kind of exclusive since it’s a farm. They have very high-end, quality products there, and a location like that isn’t listed on Instacart.”
Shawn tossed around the idea of exclusively shopping at similar farms and boutique stores and forming a type of niche business with them. However, after talking with one of his clients, he decided diversity would serve him, and those that depend on his services, much better.
“She told me that part of the appeal of Go Go Grocer was that I could go everywhere,” Shawn said. “Sure, I could visit these specialty locations, but many people also still need products from the big box stores.”
Though Shawn was initially worried about having to compete with a giant like Instacart with tons of shoppers hitting these same chain grocery stores, those concerns quickly fizzled out. He had differentiated himself through the normal value propositions Dumpling delivers, such as paying in-store prices, choosing a consistent personal shopper, and the like. Shawn also found that his willingness to listen to feedback and personalize a client’s experience were the factors that got him the recurring business.
Shooting the Breeze. Aiming for the Moon.
When meeting Shawn, it’s easy to see why his personal shopping business is so successful. He’s a guy you just really want to talk to. He makes conversations easy and natural, and his inquisitive nature makes it apparent that he’s genuine and cares about what someone has to say.
And while this may come natural to Shawn, he says being conversational and approachable should be integral to a personal shopper’s business model.
“I connected with a client on that Nextdoor neighborhood app who was immunocompromised and needed contactless delivery to his second-story apartment,” Shawn told us. “He said Instacart delivery people continuously refused to go upstairs and it was next to impossible for him to retrieve his deliveries because he walked with a cain.”
Shawn chatted with the man for a bit, and convinced him that Go Go Grocer would cater to his specific needs.
“Because of his experience with Instacart, he was a bit wary at first,” Shawn said. “But now we’re very friendly. He’s a weekly customer, and we got to know each other a bit over small talk and conversations. Now he calls me ‘The Most Interesting Man in Groceries!”
The service and conversational appeal is why Shawn kept this customer. But there’s more to it than client retention.
“He really loves the banter. I do, too,” Shawn said. “It puts a human touch on things for a guy who can’t really go out. It’s all about the human connection.”
As for the future, Shawn plans to continue to scale his business. And it’s through this commitment to relationship building and client care that will surely help him succeed.
“Growth is always on my mind,” he said. “Maybe that means hiring some people. But my goal is to continue to provide the best possible service I can.”