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Stephen Alexander of Crumbrae's with Gelnda Rissman of brand consultancy q30 Design

Mark Peckmezian

Hype can be fatally distracting. In the last couple of years, small business owners have flitted from one new-media promotional darling to another: Twitter and Facebook and Groupon, oh my! But too many entrepreneurs have overlooked the importance of that old pillar of new media: an elegantly designed website.

Earlier this year, Cumbrae's, a local Toronto butcher with three retail locations and a wholesale operation that caters to chefs, unveiled a refreshed site that does what the best physical storefronts do: offers up an engaging image that prompts passersby to step through the door and sample the charms inside.

Advice for the DIY crowd:

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Forget e-commerce, tell a story

Cumbrae's knows that building a relationship with customers is more important in the long term than making a single sale. So its website forgoes e-commerce – and all of its logistical hassles – in favour of helping customers get more out of the purchases they make in the store. There are recipes, instructional videos, and background information on Cumbrae's products, such as its heritage breed of turkeys and Niagara Gold whey-fed pork. The site is divided into three sections, representing an animal's journey to the plate: farm, store, table. "I wanted to keep everything super short. People don't want to read huge essays," explains owner Stephen Alexander. "You tell them what you do in a few sentences, and let the videos tell the story."

Find the right partner

Cumbrae's has been working with the Toronto design and brand consultancy q30 Design for about seven years, forming a relationship defined by its honesty and openness. Like a good friend, an advertising or design agency will warn their clients if they are about to take a wrong step. Glenda Rissman, the co-founder of q30, recalls that Alexander once came to her with an image of a stylized cleaver he thought would be cool to use on his staff's T-shirts. "I said to him: 'If you had one tiny shop in Kensington Market, you could. But you have a very specific client base, and as much as I love that cleaver, it's not you.'"

Good design is an investment, not a frill

"If a new business thinks about design from the beginning, it forces them to think strategically from the get-go," says Rissman. In the past year, Alexander figures he's spent about $50,000 on marketing, which includes all the brochures, bag stuffers, recipe cards and – the biggest expense – the website redesign. "It's not chump change," he admits. "I could have done the website myself with one of the people in my office, slapped something together, but it would have been very unprofessional and not the way to go." Adds Rissman: "The market is just so crowded – people are bombarded in so many ways, with advertising, the Web, etc. You have such a tiny window in which to tell your story, it had better be told quickly and right."

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About the Author
Senior Media Writer

Simon Houpt is the Globe and Mail's senior media writer, charged with covering the industry's transformation. He began his career with The Globe in 1999 as the paper's New York arts correspondent, covering the cultural life of that city through Canadian eyes. More

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