At the Feb. 9 opening session, NGA President Peter Larkin said the record attendance and expo booths is a sign that independent grocers are not a dying breed, withering in the shadow of giant chains.
“The independent grocery channel is a vital force, accounting for nearly one percent of the nation’s gross domestic product,” Larkin told the crowd.
In his remarks as out-going chairman of the NGA board, Joe Sheridan, president of Wakefern Food Corp., reminded independent retailers that they collectively have more than 20,000 stores in the U.S. with more than $131 billion in annual sales.
Sheridan said e-commerce is definitely a factor that cannot be ignored, and independents need to use it to keep stores open.
“There’s some talk that brick and mortar isn’t going to survive,” Sheridan said. “That’s just not true. However, e-commerce will change how brick and mortar works. Some items in certain categories are going to migrate and we need to be discussing that with suppliers to see how we can make that work for us.”
Incoming board chairman Rich Niemann Jr., president of Niemann Food Inc., had similar thoughts.
“There’s always going to be a boogeyman out there,” Niemann said. “But there are two key things to keep him at bay. Use your brand. Make sure you know what it stands for and where it’s going.
“Then get that word out. The rules of 30 years ago don’t apply,” he said. “Today your whole store must be a sales organization. Every employee must know what your brand is and know how to talk to your customers about it.”
Freaky about fresh
Carrying that message over to the Feb. 10 breakfast session, motivational speaker Harold Lloyd and a panel of retailers shared ideas about how independent grocery stores can get “freaky about fresh.”
Lloyd said keeping it fresh doesn’t require hiring an expensive consultant or marketing firm. For example, hand-painted and hand-written signs have been shown by numerous focus groups to equate with freshness in the minds of consumers.
“You’ve all got a frustrated artist some place in your staff. Get them some markers and chalk and examples to emulate and you will have fresh signs that shoppers will respond to,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd shared other tips he picked up from independents across North America.
Have cashiers spend the first 10 minutes of their shift with a basket and cull the produce shelves. They have a consumer’s eye, not the eye of a produce manager who wants to get one more day out of those grapes.
Play Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business” three times a day. During those four minutes, everyone except cashiers stops and cleans up, freshens their area. It is especially effective when a top manager pushes a broom around the store perimeter during the 4-minute song. Customers see you care about a clean store and employees get a lift.
Have employees spend 15 minutes of their shift serving samples and greeting customers as they enter the store. Employees interact with customers and you don’t have to add to your payroll to have a greeter on site.