For the Love of Cheese: How ‘The Cheese Geek’ Went from Passion Project to High-Growth Store
May 26, 2021
As a modern cheese subscription service, The Cheese Geek delivers (literally) on its promise to make “eating and exploring cheese easier and more fun.”
How? By bringing the greatest cheeses from local farms right to their customers’ doorsteps — in perfect condition, and with all the information needed to get the full cheese tasting experience.
We spoke with Shogun customer Rhiannon Davis, Digital Marketing Manager, to learn more about The Cheese Geek’s distinctive brand, website, and approach to ecommerce.
Plus, Founder Edward Hancock, shared some insights on how he managed to carve out such a unique space for his business — and grow it into the wildly successful brand it’s become.
The birth of a cheese geek
A self-described geek on a journey, Ed’s personal “cheese pilgrimage” began more than 25 years ago at a restaurant in France. When a fateful cheese trolley rolled his way, Ed felt like a kid in a candy store. This sparked a lifelong passion for discovering and sharing the best cheeses. Today, Ed still feels like a kid in a candy store when presented with new selections to try. He created his business to bring that same sense of delight to others everywhere.
Ed’s passion comes through in every aspect of his work, from copywriting and branding to how his employees talk about him:
“Whenever we product test a new launch, Ed gets into this headspace,” says Rhiannon. “He starts describing the cheese like he’s frolicking in a field — or smelling pine spruce from the trees. It’s just amazing that he gets transported like this. Around someone like Ed, it’s hard not to get really passionate too.”
As Ed sees it:
“[When you start a business,] you are creating something from nothing, putting your heart and soul out there...and when you read all the feedback from customers and realize that people love what you're doing, that is so rewarding.”
But until recently, Ed never dreamed he’d be shipping thousands of cheese boxes around the UK every week.
“I was cutting the cheese from my mum’s house!”
The Cheese Geek received their first order — a three-month subscription to ‘The Elvis’ cheesebox — in September 2017.
“I still remember the order coming in […] and thinking, ‘Why the hell have you bought cheese from us?!’” says Ed. “And how did you find us?!”
The brand had a basic website at the time, but it didn’t rank well in search results. As a small-scale operation, they had no means to promote the site or drive traffic.
“We had no marketing budget whatsoever,” says Ed. “And I was cutting the cheese from my mum’s house!”
Three and a half years later and the brand has grown from a one-man show to a high-growth DTC operation with nearly 20 employees.
“We used to send out 10 boxes a week, but now it’s more like 1000 a week,” says Rhiannon.
A good chunk of this growth happened in the past year alone. Since joining the team six months ago (as their first marketing hire!), Rhiannon witnessed the expansion firsthand.
“This time last year there were three people working in the whole business, and now we have nearly 18,” says Rhiannon. “It’s been a really amazing journey, enhanced by lockdown in the UK a little.”
A cheesy new ecommerce site
Of course, rapid growth presents challenges for any DTC brand. As The Cheese Geek’s team and product line evolved, so too did their need for a more robust website that reflected their brand.
Prior to discovering Shogun Page Builder, they were using Squarespace. It was fine for putting together an early version of The Cheese Geek site, but they quickly realized it wasn’t a long-term solution for running their Shopify store.
“Anybody can create a Squarespace site, but it’s not so great to scale up,” says Rhiannon. “We wanted something we could manage in-house that we could scale with.”
Their COO Rich built much of the current website using Page Builder. He found it easy for creating new pages but also loved being able to swap out content on the fly.
“It was important that if we wanted to change something spur of the moment, we could.” says Rhiannon. “Especially in a startup, time and resources are so precious. To have something completely customizable in an hour, it’s key for us.”
Page Builder made it easy to stay on top of changes to subscription offerings, seasonal cheese boxes, and partnerships — a huge factor, as The Cheese Geek has expanded their product line significantly.
“In the past four weeks, we’ve had five cheese boxes go live and ten Pick ‘N’ Mix pages,” says Rhiannon. “It’s really been helpful for us to have something we don’t need to relay to a developer. We can do it all in-house as a small team. I can do it myself in about ten minutes.”
From changing out the branding a bit, to making the site feel more modern, having the right tools for their website has made it much more manageable. Rhiannon finds the snippets feature particularly handy for whipping up new pages.
“We’re expanding our “pick-a-mix” cheeses from 15 to 60, so having the ability to replicate parts of the site for consistency is amazing,” she says. “You’re able to supply so much upfront information and it’s neatly chunked into different sections.”
Creating product pages worthy of great cheese
Being able to quickly update their website has freed up the team to inject more personality and pop culture into their branding. They can now focus on optimizing the store instead of pouring all their resources into simply building it.
“We’re now introducing playfulness into our site photography with shapes, geometrics, layouts, and having fun with the props,” says Rhiannon.
The Cheese Geeks ensure their revolutionary spirit and energy comes through in their product pages. One of Rhiannon’s favorite Shogun creations features a cheesebox named The Freddie (a fromage homage to the late Queen frontman).
“All the boxes are named after rock stars and pop culture icons. So, we’re tying in the images and copy with that. We try to incorporate a quote from the pop star on the cheese product pages.”
Like all of their product pages, The Freddie is full of character. The Cheese Geek finds a balance between displaying information clearly — so people can see exactly what’s in the box to convert — and injecting tons of personality. Shogun helps them bring their pages to life by making it easier to capture that vibrant look and feel.
The site is customized to let passion shine through, but it’s also to help customers easily find what they’re looking for on their own ‘cheese pilgrimage.’
“On our individual cheese pages, we want to make it easy for the visitor with tasting notes, how to eat the cheese, and enjoy it. If we can convey this from the website, we’ve done our job well.”
And all the work has paid off. Since switching to Shogun, the store’s conversion rates jumped by 630% the year they switched from Squarespace to Shogun.
The Cheese Geek has come a long way since Ed's mom's kitchen table. And as the business has grown, so has their community — including the local cheesemakers, farmers, and charities they work with.
Today, the brand is proud to support local farmers by sharing their products and helping tell their story.
Many of the family-run businesses they work with are third or fourth generation farmers who don’t have any web presence of their own, so The Cheese Geek helps facilitate awareness for these smaller distributors.
“Ed likes to say that we’re making cheese mongers rock stars,” says Rhiannon.
By working with small farms that care about their livestock, the brand is making choices that benefit customers, the environment, and the dairy industry. Not only do customers get access to a wide selection of cheese, but they get to feel good about supporting small producers and their environmental impact.
“We work with the tiny little farms that care about their cows. They know the names of all their cows!”
Be the cheese you want to see in the world
At its core, the Cheese Geek is about bringing people together over a shared passion.
From discovering new types of artisan cheese to learning more about favorites, this exciting DTC store makes the entire experience enjoyable and inclusive.
“If you go into a cheese shop, you’re often overwhelmed with options. We wanted to make the process as accessible as possible,” says Rhiannon. “If we can communicate that well on our site, then that makes for an exceptional experience.”
As for what’s next?
Not only do they have a rebrand coming this summer, but the shop’s also got a new app launching in October. The geeks are expanding to mobile!
“We want to build an entire cheese encyclopedia in the app,” says Rhiannon. “Just for getting knowledge across about cheese — even if we don’t sell it.”
From helping customers find the perfect cheese and wine pairing to making it easy to remember and reorder favorites, The Cheese Geek site gets every aspect of online shopping right.
“If we can get someone trying this small little cheese that they’ve never heard of before and they love it, then at the end of the day, that would make us very, very happy.”
Build Your Store, Your Way
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