Larkin: Why Independents Continue To Stand Out

December 31, 2018

This column originally ran in The Shelby Report

 

Food retail is transforming. Disruption is changing the landscape.

However, that doesn’t mean everything changes. Retailers still need to engage customers and provide exceptional products and services.

No one understands this better than independent supermarket operators. They go the extra mile to engage customers, especially as the supermarket industry gets more competitive.

There are countless examples of how this plays out. Here are a few that we at NGA have heard from our members:

Dogged Deliveries: Coborn’s makes friends with the family dog by bringing along dog biscuits on home shopping deliveries. The St. Cloud, Minnesota-based independent retailer has made significant investments in e-commerce, for everything from online experience to fulfillment. The company provides extensive training to drivers, because they are the face of the service. Drivers are encouraged to ask customers how they feel about their delivery experiences. This engagement even extends to considering the needs of the family dog, a fact that underscores the independent’s extreme focus on details to please shoppers.

“Meating” Community Needs: Ptacek’s IGA set the record for producing the longest bratwurst, at more than 300 feet, as a unique way of enhancing community engagement. That’s a tall order for a 100-year-plus, one-store independent operator based in Prescott, Wisconsin. The independent has been running special events for years dedicated to creating excitement and generating money for community causes. Why a bratwurst, you may ask? Not only is it highly popular in the Midwest, but it also commemorates the fact that Ptacek’s began as a meat market in downtown Prescott back in 1912.

Bald Marketing: Niemann Foods’ executives dared to show off their baldness as part of a unique social media program to engage customers. An online video series called “Two Bald Guys Eat Stuff and Talk About It” has been popular with shoppers, who enjoy viewing the mix of tasting, banter and humor. This and other Niemann’s online efforts have produced impressive social media metrics and boosted customer engagement.

Presenting Fish Stories: Green Valley Marketplace created a crab pretzel to present a unique prepared foods signature item to customers. The Baltimore-based independent operator embraces the importance of deli items that are fresh-made in store from scratch, using fresh ingredients. This strategy runs through a wide range of its offerings, from chicken wings to salads to cold lunch sandwich programs. The company is known for signature items designed with an understanding of local tastes. That’s what led to the innovative crab pretzel.

Why does all this independent innovation matter? The food retail industry has become ultra-competitive, and similar products and services are now available everywhere, including online.

In the face of all this, independents have stuck to their unique and winning ways. They continue to customize for local markets and offer distinctive products, in-store experiences, and services. They are willing to go the extra mile to achieve this. It’s a story that’s becoming increasingly apparent to customers.

This story needs to be driven home with trading partners. They are under a lot of pressure to produce innovative programs for a quick-changing industry. They realize the stakes are higher than ever. Who better than independents to help them test and learn? Independents are flexible and collaborative. They can help suppliers build great stories for products and services.

Independents should feel good about their successes and realize the importance of keeping up the momentum. It’s making a difference. They need to keep their compass pointed on innovation and local customer needs, because that’s how they’ll win.