Listen to an in-depth interview with Allison Rouse of the Rouses' supermarket chain. See the RetailWire Podcast below...
Rouses, based in Thibodaux, Louisiana, is something of an exception to the rules of modern grocery retailing. The family-owned business is successful and growing in an environment increasingly dominated by large chains.
Allison Rouse said the chain has survived tough times brought on by both natural and man-made disasters by adhering to the values handed down by Anthony Rouse, her grandfather and the chain's founder who passed away in March 2009.
Ms. Rouse spoke to RetailWire close to the time of the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. While many others have yet to rally to the aid of New Orleans post-Katrina, Rouses has chosen to open its first urban store in the city's downtown in the former Sewell Cadillac Building.
"We think it's going to bring new life to that area of New Orleans," said Ms. Rouse. "The Superdome is a couple blocks away, so we're excited for game day. The area doesn't have a grocery. [Locals] have to travel from their homes in the warehouse district to go get groceries. This will be more of a neighborhood market, which is something that that area desperately needs."
A more recent calamity, the BP oil spill in the Gulf, has also tested Rouses.
"The oil spill has really impacted us in that we are known for our local seafood. ... A lot of fishing waters were closed right away, especially in our little corner of the world down in southeast Louisiana. The western waters were still open so we still had seafood supply from the Gulf," she said. "We just really had to educate our customers that the seafood is safe. We are looking where it's coming from. We know which dock it comes from, which fisherman brought it in and also have tests in place on the dock and at the store so that there's no tainted seafood in our stores."
Keeping things personal is key to Rouses' success.
"We feel that going to the grocer is kind of a social thing for a lot of people in southern Louisiana because we love to cook. We love to go and socialize and see your neighbors and see the people you went to school with," said Ms. Rosue. "We feel like our employees are like a family. And they see people they know coming through the checkout lines, going through the departments."
While most of the magic happens in-store, Rouses is looking to expand the influence of its brand. The company uses social media, including Facebook and Twitter, to communicate with its shoppers, but also to get feedback to improve its performance. The company, which has been shipping king cakes around the continental U.S. for many years, is also looking at ways to take greater advantage of e-commerce opportunities.
"We're starting to ship some of our specialty items. We're kinda going slowly into that to make sure we do it right," said Ms. Rouse. "A long-term goal, but hopefully it will be a short term goal, very soon, is to provide a more in-depth online shopping experience -- to get the store mapped, and people will be able to shop online and pick up groceries and, in some areas, be able to deliver just an everyday grocery order. One step in between, there will probably be our catering and party platter items, just as a step towards that goal."
Discussion Questions: What most impresses you about Rouses' approach to retailing? Are there lessons from the Rouses' experience for other grocers?
How good are food retailers, in general, at turning grocery shopping into a social occasion?