RSR Research: Who Says the Store is Dead?
Through a special arrangement, what follows is a summary of an article from Retail Paradox, RSR Research’s weekly analysis on emerging issues facing retailers, presented here for discussion.
A recent visit to the new Whole Foods Market in North Miami assured me that the store is alive and well. You just have to make it … interesting.
Arriving three days after the May 1 opening, I was greeted in the parking lot by bands playing, special activities for kids, and policemen directing traffic. But inside the store, it was about the products. A moveable feast similar to Costco let me sample everything from key lime mustard marinade to Parmesan Reggiano. But I learned some valuable lessons during my first visit:
Lesson #1 – Branding is About More Than Brand Name: Upon entering, you walk smack dab into the fresh produce department. Signs read, "Organic: more than 91 products today" and "Local more than xx products today" (sorry, I don’t remember how many). In other words, the store found a way to hit both my hot buttons. I’ve definitely gotten religion around non-GMO food over the past year and buying local just makes good sense. The reason I’m calling out "Organic" and "Local" brands follows.
Lesson #2 – How Whole-Paycheck Became Half-a-Paycheck: As I mentioned, I’m fussy about particular foods, nuts and grains in particular because I’ve read so much about how the seed stock has been tainted. So I want my almond milk to be organic. As it turns out, Whole Foods had half-gallon jugs of its 365 brand almond milk emblazoned with the USDA certified organic label. Into the cart it went. And so it went with many of the products I bought. The net result: the final bill was about 1/3 less than I’d expected to pay. So I saved myself some money, got what I wanted and left very happy.
Lesson #3 – Store Employees Really Do Matter: For whatever reason, the average store or office employee in South Florida really isn’t very nice. But the Whole Foods employees were genuinely happy. Checkout lines were short, and when I realized I was working with a brand new employee at checkout who really didn’t know how to ring up "complicated things" like yams. She was so sweet that I just didn’t mind waiting. The person training her said, "Don’t worry, within a few months you’ll know them all by heart." She smiled broadly, and that just made me happy. How many of us can even expect our employees to be around for "a few months"? Maybe there is something to this conscious capitalism thing.
So while I’m hearing a lot of buzz around Amazon getting into grocery, and Walmart getting into the neighborhood market business, I’ve got a whole other thought process. Give me the assortment that I want, surprise and delight me with your service, don’t cause me undue pain, and I’ll happily go on a discovery adventure at a local food store.
What should other retailers glean from Whole Foods’ recent success? Which of the elements mentioned in the article — organic/local branding, increasingly competitive prices, good employees — appear to be particularly supporting Whole Foods’ renewed momentum?