By Pat Jones, Project Assistant
Focused Community Strategies (FCS ) has been a fixture in underserved Atlanta communities for 20 years, dedicated to community revitalization with the goal of bringing neighborhoods back to health.
According to its website, “FCS invests deeply in one under-resourced Atlanta neighborhood at a time, building upon the neighborhood’s strengths to create a flourishing community.”
Around a decade ago they opened a coffee shop in a South Atlanta neighborhood, which after a few years expanded, into a 3,000-square-foot grocery store (maintaining the full-service coffee shop) called Carver Neighborhood Market.
In order to become part of the fabric of their community, Jeff Delp, director of economic development, highlighted 4 things they learned to keep in mind to make Carver a success:
- Time: Delp jokingly refers to their program as a “20-year overnight success” because in order to achieve success in an area like theirs, you must work slowly and diligently. A sense of trust is not established overnight.
- Authenticity: Engaging with a tight-knit population requires you to be genuine. Delp referred to this aspect as something that folks can sniff out. If you are opening a store to turn a profit without an authentic understanding of what community members want or need, you won’t pass the sniff test and your customer base might never build. You must cater your store to your patrons and not try and build a new customer base.
- Being intentional: You must truly listen instead of attempting to diagnose what you think your community may want or need. Delp said that they look at the receipts, see what their members are interested in and follow their lead.
- Proximity: This aspect might be more difficult to control, but you should work to be as close as possible to your customers. Because of this aspect, several of their consistent shoppers, without ready forms of transportation, are willing to make the walk to their store for their weekly groceries.
Another aspect of keeping your customers’ best interest at heart is the desire to offer them healthy food options. This provided the impetus for FCS to get involved in nutrition incentives, with funding provided from a variety of sources both federal and private. Carver began offering incentives around 4 years ago and immediately saw results. Produce purchases nearly tripled with the introduction of its BOGO program, giving the store a competitive advantage against larger grocers by providing patrons more of a reason to come to them, and provided customers who were already coming in greater motivation to change their diets.
Thanks to FCS’ devotion to the above concepts, Carver has fostered a community that is dedicated to its success. When faced with property damage this past summer, 50 local residents came together to help repair the store and paint murals on the store walls. Carver Neighborhood Market is more than a grocery store; it’s a place where folks grab a coffee in the morning before work, where high schoolers grab a beverage after class, where members of the community can get a job, and where families can shop for fresh food to put on their tables. In short, it’s a second home.
How has your store worked to gain community trust? Reach out to let us know. To learn more about nutrition incentives and how to bring them to your store, please visit www.ngaftacenter.org
*The NGAF TA Center addresses the challenges grocers and supermarket operators face in establishing nutrition incentive programs and is a proud partner of the Nutrition Incentive Hub. The Nutrition Incentive Hub, funded through a cooperative agreement from the United States Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, is a new resource that provides training, technical assistance, reporting, and evaluation for those working to launch or expand SNAP incentives or produce prescription programs. The Nutrition Incentive Hub is led by Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition in partnership with Fair Food Network along with a coalition of evaluators, researchers, practitioners, and grocery and farmers market experts from across the country dedicated to strengthening and uniting the best thinking in the field to increase access to affordable, healthy food to those who need it most.