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February 21, 2024

Any way you slice it: Customer service secrets of a small business

It’s not the size of the transaction that matters to Marden Continental’s Sam Gallarello. The Eastside Business Awards winner says it’s all about the service.

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  • Images: Supplied.
  • This article was produced in collaboration with the City of Norwood Payneham & St Peters.

Six days a week, the staff at Marden Continental reserve a small panini, price $1.70, for a 94-year-old gentleman who lives around the corner.

“He’s been coming here for 16 years or even longer,” owner Sam Gallarello says. “As long as I’ve been here and that’s a great thing.”

Sam was looking for a sea change when he bought the decade-old business, a complete departure from his previous industry. However, he says being “nice and polite” was part of his old job.


For more information or to vote in the Eastside Business Awards, visit the website.

Successfully competing against the big supermarkets is about connecting with an audience who values customer service and a “bit of general chit chat” says Sam. In marketing, it’s called brand positioning; for Sam, it’s about doing the right thing by his customers.

The specialty Italian grocery store sells cold meats, – prosciuttos, hams, mortadellas and salamis are their biggest sellers – Italian and Australian cheeses, a variety of fresh breads, “all the continental goods” plus 10 different brands of pasta.

“We’ve got a Woollies next door to us, but they seem to be doing us more favours than what they do for themselves because of the way they cut their meats,” Sam says.

Marden Continental’s motto is ‘Sliced fresh is best’ and it carries through to the care they take in carefully layering the meat or cheese slices on deli paper. Needless to say, the slices are as thick or thin as requested.

“You take that home, open it up in front of people and they’re gonna say, ‘Oh, gee, that looks nicely presented’.”

Last year, Marden Continental won Best Independent Small Business at the Eastside Business Awards, which recognise and celebrate exceptional and outstanding businesses in the City of Norwood Payneham & St Peters, as voted for by the public.

They received $1000 of advertising with Solstice Media (the publisher of CityMag and InDaily) and $1000 of business advisory services from AFM Services. “What they advised us to do was pretty good … well worth the exercise,” Sam says.

Marden Continental was a finalist in 2022 and Sam shares that, keen to go back-to-back, he kicked off the 2023 awards with a self-nomination and encouraged customers to vote.

These demographics are gradually changing, as the older Italians who’ve always made up more than half of the store’s patrons move into nursing homes or pass away. Most of them would have been on first name basis with Sam and his staff of four.

Now, the younger people who come through occasionally hit the staff up for cooking tips and recipes.

“They ask the girls, ‘How would you do this? How would you do that?,” Sam says proudly. The “girls” are all the other side of 40, Silvana a sprightly 72.

“Customers ask me and I can sort of help – I don’t know if they believe me, but they do ask.”

Sam points out the ripple effect that comes with doing a little more. Giving a piece of string to one young customer (to hang a newly purchased Italian good luck charm from his car mirror) gets an unprompted, favourable response from another.

“Little things like that, you’re not going to get that service at a supermarket,” he says.

“We try to be more boutiquey and individual, and we’ll spend a few more minutes with a customer.

“It all goes back to customer service.”

The public is invited to nominate and/or vote for their favourite business in the 2024 Eastside Business Awards.

Vote for your favourite by 14 March 2024.

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