Business Insights

3 fundamental business insights

What we can learn from the Columbia Road Flower Market in East London

The Columbia Road Flower Market is one of my favourite places in London – and not just for me: It`s usually pretty crowded which proves that a lot of people love it there. (Actually, I usually go there when the vendors are starting to pack and most of the people are leaving…) What makes the market soo popular?


1. Create an ADVENTURE (customer experience)

One way to attract customers is to give them a little adventure when buying your product or service. The flower market visitors come to buy flowers AND to enjoy the beautiful market, the atmosphere, the vendors, the hustle and bustle …. 

As a photographer for example I always aim to make the photo day memorable, relaxed, and lovely for my clients. I want them to smile when they think back to the day when looking at the photos. It should be a special occasion and a little adventure for them, not something to cross off a to-do list, or their planner.

The same goes for every other business: If you sell groceries make sure your customers look forward to running their errands in your shop – be all smiles, give them a little goodie, and try to be one of the highlights of their day. Especially if you are selling expensive goods: People don`t just buy your products but also the great experience they have when shopping. “Today’s customers crave adventures and discoveries, whether epic or everyday“, writes Micah Solomon in the Forbes article ‘Spice Up The Customer Experience With Adventure’. “The more stimulating and surprising an environment, an experience, a “movie” you can create for your customers to engage with, the more your customers will want to text, Facebook, and talk about your business.”

2. Competition is good for business

On Columbia Road, there are easily twenty flower stalls on a Sunday I would estimate. A few arts and crafts or vintage stalls can be found on the side streets but there are usually not a lot of customers. The crowds gather around the flower stalls. These “competitors” benefit from each other. People wouldn`t flock to that road on a Sunday if there was just one single stall with flowers.

Competition is good for business for many reasons. One of them is: When customers come to a place in order to buy flowers from ‘Shop A’ and you sell flowers next to ‘Shop A’, they might as well end up in your shop, too (as they are flower lovers and hence are your target audience). ‘Shop A’, your competitor, is basically attracting your target audience for you (and you do the same for him). It`s a win-win situation.

Also: If customers of ‘Shop A’ have their flowers on display in their homes, their friends will want flowers too. Some of them might not even have thought about getting flowers, but now they see those pretty flowers at their friends’ house they want them! So the “appetite”, the demand for flowers rises which will ultimately benefit you also.

CEO and business expert Jonathan Becher writes in his blog post ‘Why Gas Stations are so close to each other’:  “If a retailer opens a new location away from the current clustering, there are two potential results: 1. It will fail to capture enough consumers and eventually close. 2. It will become successful causing competitive stores to locate nearby.” For businesses with no physical shop, this could mean joining niche-specific online marketplaces and creating their listing there. 

3. Tell a story to love

The Columbia Road Flower Market has a long tradition and its origins reach back to 1869. Its story was disrupted by temporary closures and changes – yet it prevailed. Many of the traders are selling at the market for the second or third generation of their families. The way the traders speak is “so East London” and the old brick houses with their colourful store fronts add to the East End atmosphere.

History and consistency, family, authenticity, trustworthiness, being “real” – these are all things we love to hear stories about. And we want to be part of these stories by buying from and supporting businesses that are standing for these kinds of ideals.

Marketing Expert Kerstin Reichert writes in ‘Business Storytelling: How to build a strong connection with your customers‘: “In a world where we’re bombarded by information, a great story helps you cut through the noise and grab the attention of customers who will feel passionate about staying with you for the long-term.”

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