What Makes an Independent Grocer Special?
By Al McClain
Independent retailers have a very tough time beating mega-retailers on price, but they are more nimble and can use that in various ways to their advantage. How to draw consumers to independent stores was the theme of a “RetailWire Live” workshop at the recent National Grocers Association (NGA) convention in Las Vegas.
Mr. McGoldrick’s top three ideas were: create a customer service map to overlay your brand image on your operations manual; make organic/natural food delicious and easy (appeals better to shoppers than “healthy and environmentally friendly”); and nurture loyal customers through loyalty to the community – be loyal to employees while making customers’ lives easier.
Ms. Newman-Carrasco suggested appealing to ethnic groups by showing off your in-culture and in-language strengths via signage, staffing, product mix and overall experience. Also, retailers should become a source of experience beyond the tactical need to shop via community-based involvement; and implement customer service that speaks to lifestyle needs such as special hours, delivery, web services and customized specials.
Mr. Tenser advocated redefining “service” as “experience” and expanding thinking to include all functions, such as in-stock consistency, pricing and cleanliness. He also believes it is important to educate shoppers on the importance of quality via cooking classes, nutrition seminars and in-store messaging. And, he suggested reversing the loyalty arrow by being loyal to your best customers and not treating them as “marks”.
Mr. Zahn mentioned transitioning from transaction-based programs to relationship-based activities, believing that focusing on why the consumer shops with you is more important than operational efficiencies. And, he suggested overhauling the organization – rewarding employees for providing good customer service and through “open book” management. Finally, he suggested getting “cozy” with your customers, identifying who they are and getting more data from manufacturers.
The overall sense at the convention is that independents and regional chains are operating in an environment where shoppers have tired just a bit of enormous stores, impersonal service and national programs and are willing to at least think about embracing retailers with local flavor, community involvement and superior customer service.
Moderator’s Comment: What are your suggestions for independents looking to become special in the minds of consumers? Are there independents or smaller
chains that you can point to as models?
The good news for smaller operators is that the opportunity to succeed is there, if they seize it. But, those who really want to thrive need to really be
aggressive in making sure they are top performers in quality, service, cleanliness and the overall shopping experience. There are still a lot of “me too” operators out there and
those that are unwilling to really make a commitment in these areas will fail. –
Al McClain – Moderator