Inner-City Grocer Prospers, Eyes Future

Mar 22, 2002
George Anderson

A decade ago, Jonathan F. Johnson wasn’t sure the Community Pride chain of four inner-city supermarkets he operated would last a year. Today, Community Pride, among the country’s largest minority-owned businesses, is prospering and growing. Black Enterprise ranked the chain 51st in the magazine’s industrial/service category last year.

Mr. Johnson now owns 100 percent of the supermarket chain. He recently finished paying off $4 million in loans he took out 10 years ago, and dissolved his board of directors. He plans to recreate the board starting with former members James E. Ukrop, grocery store magnate, and Gary LeClair, Richmond lawyer. As his company is debt-free, Mr. Johnson looks to build grocery stores at Tobacco Row, with an eat-in cafe, and on Chamberlayne Avenue, and to expand outside of Richmond.

The chain should generate $63.2 million in sales for the fiscal year that ends March 30, which is more than four times the $15.7 million the company brought in at the end of its first year. Operating profit should be $1.38 million, up from $524,587 in the prior fiscal year. The chain posted an operating loss of $336,150 in its first year.

Moderator Comment: Do white guys in ties have the
necessary insights to market to people of color and women?

The following originally appeared on MarketingBeat 7/25/01.

A White Guy’s Take On Black Consumers

by George Anderson

I am an American-born male of Irish descent. I am melanin-challenged
and I am as close as you can get to albino without the pink eyes.

I grew up in a suburban town in New Jersey and did not
have a single African-American in my graduating high school class of approximately
400 kids.

Like Seinfeld’s George Constanza, I don’t have any close
personal friends that are black.

Today, as a middle-aged white guy, my job has me working
with retailers and consumer goods manufacturers but here too I have had few
business relationships with people of color.

Simply put, I haven’t a clue when it comes to black consumers
and, based on recent polling from the Gallup organization, neither do many of
the other white guys trying to market and sell retail products and services
to African-Americans.

According to Gallup (,
“more than one in four blacks (27%) say they feel they have been treated unfairly
in the past month while shopping in a store.” A much greater percentage of blacks
feel as though they’ve been treated unfairly than Caucasians. Depending on where
(shopping, work, restaurants, etc.) up to 46% of black respondents to the poll
said they had been treated unfairly.

So, what should white guys (this is New Jersey-speak
for men and women) in retailing and consumer goods management and marketing
do to better understand and serve this important shopper base?

  1. Perception is Reality – The simple fact that such
    a high percentage of blacks feel as though they have been mistreated in retail
    and foodservice situations in the last month indicates that associate sensitivity
    training is definitely in order.

    Stores should implement ongoing educational programs
    to make associates aware of various communication techniques to avoid perceived
    slights where they might not be intended. If discrimination exists, end

  2. Celebrate Diversity – Retailers always seem to be
    lamenting the lack of skilled employees. Actively recruit the African-American
    community to build stronger businesses. A number of companies and associations
    have developed strong recruitment/training programs for minorities. FMI (
    has received high marks for its initiative in this area.

  3. Don’t Get Dumbed Down by Demographics – The whole
    business of identifying consumers by various groups makes it easier to develop
    marketing strategies but there are pitfalls also.

    All Irish-Americans are not the same and neither
    are all African-Americans. It should never be assumed because a store clusters
    in a low-income, urban area with a large African-American population that
    these consumers are of a single mind.

    The political viewpoints of J.C. Watts and Clarence
    Thomas are very different from those of Jesse Jackson and Kweisi Mfume.
    No one would argue that the musical gaps between Charley Pride, Stevie Wonder
    and Snoop Doggy Dogg are wide. Age, gender, income, education, language
    and various other factors make the black community diverse and marketing
    to a perceived monolith is a sure path to failure.

  4. A Starbucks Grows in Harlem – When discussions come
    up about the differences between black and white Americans often what is being
    discussed is income, not race. Some might say that Dollar Stores and Aldi’s
    do well in black neighborhoods but forget about anything remotely upscale.

I myself was guilty of a similar perception until a couple
of years after the L.A. riots when I attended the grand opening of a Ralph’s
in the Inglewood section of town. Walking through the store I was amazed by
the number of services being offered. Would the store be able to support these
services in this community? The answer was yes. People with lower incomes eat
seafood, buy flowers, dry clean their clothes and ship packages just like the
stupid white guy who asked the silly question. [George
Anderson – Moderator

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