Building Bridges to the Hispanic Community

Sep 29, 2004

By Terry Soto

When judging whether or not to go the extra mile to connect with your ethnic customers in your stores, consider that what you are doing is creating relationships. Like any of
us, we like to do business with people we like, to whom we relate and in places where we feel comfortable. And, we like to do business with companies that at least seemingly give
back to the communities in which they do business.

Ethnic consumers are no different; if anything, because these people are often not native to this country, creating a connection with them here in the U.S. is even more critical. So what do you do? Within the store, use of the customers’ native language is important: on signage and packaging; as spoken by employees; and as used for in-store announcements.

But it takes much more than that. Connections have to be made outside of the store, and that requires a concerted effort and commitment from the top of the organization on down. Here are some specific recommendations:

Develop an ethnic community relations strategy as a part of the store manager’s goals and objectives, and provide appropriate staff training and tools.

  • Educate staff about the culture and values of the customers who shop in their store.

  • Identify relevant community-based organizations for potential partnerships.

  • Establish a relationship with ethnic community leaders and organizations.

  • Engage in relevant ethnic community activities, such as:

    • Working with local churches or neighborhood organizations that provide education, employment services, and job training

    • Supporting schools through Adopt-A-School programs

    • Holding fundraising events on parking lots in collaboration with community organizations

    • Sponsoring neighborhood cleanup drives and ensuring employee participation

  • Provide adequate funds to local store managers so they and their staff can participate in these activities.

Moderator’s Comment: What do good retailers do to build relationships with mainstream shoppers that can also apply to ethnic shoppers? Why do retailers
struggle with this concept when it comes to ethnic neighborhoods where their stores are located?

Building bridges to the local community should really begin at the top of the organization with outreach to local community leaders. Community-based organizations
often act as the voice for the local community and may seek corporate support. Many successful retailers believe that senior management involvement in these organizations is critical
to gaining credibility in the communities in which they do — or intend to do — business.

Another critical piece of the puzzle is the development of company’s policy on local procurement. Successful retailers believe their community relationships
should be reciprocal: The community invests in the retailer, so the retailer should invest in the community. To achieve credibility in the ethnic community, successful retailers
go beyond charitable support. They provide opportunities to local minority businesses, including vendors engaged in construction, information technology, accounting, consulting,
and other professional services. The goal is to develop a supplier base that closely mirrors the customer base
Terry Soto – Moderator

Note: This article is based of the fourth of five “best practices,” outlined in the study Grow with America – Best Practices in Ethnic Merchandising
and Marketing
sponsored by the Coca Cola Retailing Research Council. (Click here to
download the study results – PDF format.)

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