Dignity Market Part 4 – Our top tips for running a free shop

We hope you are convinced about the benefits of point based food shops. The concept is simple but they take a lot of thought and care to do well.

We spent three years running free food shops in five Greek refugee camps. They varied from 120 residents to over 1,000. We’ve made all the mistakes and pretty confident that we know what we are doing now.

Our first shop in 2016

If you are are thinking of setting up a points based food shop these are our top tips:

  • Peg the points value to its actual cash value. It makes the choices real and helps you keep track of how much everything is.
  • Use big number points. We use 100 points = €1. They will feel like they are getting more and it gives them the flexibility to choose different products up to the value of their points.
  • Don’t worry about having to explain how a points system works. Everyone knows how a shop works
  • Keep the eligibility system simple. There are lots of techie options for managing customers but we use a simple spreadsheet to keep a record of members and a paper card for them to do their shopping. I think for up to a thousand customers that will do you
  • Have a few very clear rules and stick to them rigidly with no exceptions. This can feel harsh but it is critical or the system will crumble and everyone gets stressed. Ours at the Nicosia Dignity Market are:
    • Customers can choose what day they want to come but once they have chosen, we will never let them shop on any other day
    • They have to come to the shop, a friend cannot do it for them
    • Open and close on time – never deviate
    • No credit! They will never be able to spend more than the points they have
  • Some people will argue with you about the rules but that reduces over time when they see everyone is being treated the same
  • The vast majority will respect the rules but when you do discover someone trying to game the system (for example trying to shop twice, use a friend’s card, putting something extra in their bag) don’t tell them off. We can generally all have a good laugh about this kind of behaviour
  • Ensure that the shelves are always fully stocked. It just looks more inviting but will also reduce your customers’ stress levels if they know the food is not going to run out during the day or the week
  • The experience is everything:
    • Smile, welcome people in and be friendly to everyone. Make them feel special.
    • Only have 1 or 2 customers in the shop at any one time. Let them take their time.
    • Make sure it is always clean and tidy
    • Constantly work at making it more attractive

If you would ever like to run any ideas past us or ask for advice we would love to help. Just get in touch and we will get back to you.

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