From the outside, Redfern Convenience Store looks like any other convenience store. And on the inside, nothing seems unusual at first glance.
Except this convenience store has 15,000 followers on Instagram and people from around the world come to visit.
“It’s impressive,” the shop’s owner, Hazem Sedda admits.
“Sometimes I look at myself, and I say, ’Why would people want to follow me on Instagram?’”
The answer is simple: he puts the customers first.
“Before Instagram, we did have a really big reputation here [in Redfern]. And people love us around here, so and then when we started the Instagram, everyone wanted to be on it.”
Why he started the Instagram account
The idea to start an Instagram account actually came from Sedda’s good friend, journalist and presenter Ben Fordham. When Fordham posted a picture of himself and Sedda in the store on Fordham’s personal account, Sedda noticed a surge in customers.
At first, he was perplexed. “I didn’t care much,” he says.
These days, Sedda posts on Instagram daily, sharing stories of the customers who come into his store, the quirky and rare products that stock his shelves (lollypop with a scorpion inside, anyone?) and the daily specials.
His Instagram bio reads: “These are my beautiful customers who are a part of my life. Come and say hi.”
Sedda has seen several other convenience stores attempt to emulate his social media success, but they’re missing one thing: a focus on the people.
After all, people won’t follow an account to hear about a discounted bottle of Coke.
“From the day we started it, it was concentrating on our customers,” he explains.
“That hasn't changed, so it's always about the customer, not about what we sell, not about promoting any product.
“That's why I think people loved it too much, because I'm not doing it just as a business to show them what I have and they can buy it.”
The customer comes first, but cool products matter too
That’s not to say his selection of products aren’t important: Australians from all over the country come to buy Altoids, the world’s hottest beef jerky, and limited edition cereals and foreign treats from 15 different countries.
This is a major edge on other businesses, and Sedda has achieved a level of business success to the point where companies will send him new products before anyone else.
He posts photos of the products on Instagram, and then the customers rush in.
But again, he reiterates, the goal is to make the customer happy. If a regular comes in with a long face, he’ll do what he can to cheer them up: a joke, a free chocolate or bottle of milk.
He even sends snacks across the country.
“One of the posts I did last Friday was about new biscuits. A girl in Canberra, she texted me about where she can buy them because they weren't available there yet. So I said to her, "Which one do you want?" She goes, "I need the three new bars." I said, "Okay, just send me an address, I'll send it to you."”
When the bars arrived, she posted the delivery on Instagram. A few days later, Sedda received a delivery of his own: a selection of limited edition chocolates from around the world.
“I've built a very strong community with my followers as well. So if I drive to the golf course, or if I go somewhere, I'll stop all the way. If I share a story that I'm driving to Newcastle, all the people there that follow Redfern Convenience Store say, ‘Come to our café, come to our restaurant, come visit us.’
“And then I do it. I do it because I want to go meet these people. I don't want them just to see a picture of this shop. I want to meet them personally, too.”
As supermarket giants, online retailers and startup companies search for new ways to win customers, it’s a refreshingly classic approach: make the customer the true centre.
And while 15,000 Instagram followers is a number that would have many social media influencers drooling, Sedda is unfazed by the page’s success.
“I never set a goal in my mind as a number. The goal is to stay in the same quality and provide the same service to my customer,” he says.
“This one customer came and bought a T-shirt that had the Redfern Convenience Store on it. He said to me, "I'm sending it to London." I said to him, "To who?" He goes, "To my sister." I said, "Has she been to Australia?" He goes, "No."
“She only knows the store because of her brother, but what made me happy is that someone in Australia sent a Redfern Convenience Store to someone in another country just because he reckons it's the best store on the earth, and it's a really cool store.”
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