Many of those involved in the independent side of the food-distribution sector are gathering in Dallas this week for the convention of the National Grocers Association. Independents are facing both challenges and opportunities that perhaps are without precedent. Challenges are emanating from sources as varied as Wal-Mart Stores and the growing market clout of chain retailers. Conversely, many avenues for competitive strength and growth remain open to independents. These vary from internal strategies -- such as instituting greater specialization and higher service levels -- to external opportunities -- such as picking up real-estate left in the wake of chain-store consolidation.
This week's issue of SN provides a special focus on independents, and it highlights what several have done to ensure their future in this changing business environment. You'll see that each of the five news features in this week's SN are indexed on the front page. Each feature is about a separate independent operator. Let's take a closer look at the five to see what they're up to:
Foster's Food Fair IGA: Striving for isolation from competitors isn't a strategy many independents can utilize, but it happens. Foster's, featured in the Retail section of SN, is a three-store operator on Grand Cayman island. The challenge set before Foster's is one of logistics, and managing the process of obtaining grocery product shipped by Supervalu and fresh product from a vendor in the United Kingdom. The challenge has been met, though, and Foster's offers the full line of product and of departments that are common in supermarkets in this country. That's all to the good, because the local population increasingly demands a sophisticated product lineup of fresh and shelf-stable product.
Snyders IGA: This independent is profiled in the Technology Solutions section, and, as you might guess, is using technology to gain a competitive advantage. Snyders operates several stores in Oklahoma and has achieved a few technology milestones. It's said to be the sole store in the state to offer customer-actuated checkout and it has instituted an on-line shopping program. The latter is producing an average ticket of nearly $100, although aggregate volume remains quite small.
Earth Fare: One of the chief strategies independents can employ in a market dominated by larger operators is to abandon the middle ground to the big players and go toward a specialty. This operator, featured in the Fresh Market section, has gone in that direction. This North Carolina independent is a high-service, natural-food retailer aimed at a high-end consumer demographic. This is an example of what Sol Price used to term "intelligent loss of business."
Brunos Foods: This single-store operation based in California is featured in the Center Store section. The guiding concept at Brunos is one that turns conventional wisdom on its head by regarding perimeter departments as being necessary largely to attract shoppers to the grocery aisles. Grocery merchandising is done with basics in mind: Low prices, big endcaps and bulk displays of high-turn product.
Reasor's: This well-known Oklahoma operator, featured in the Home & Health section, leverages "entertainment," specifically video, to draw traffic to the stores. Reasor's takes video seriously, offering large rental departments with design flourishes and separate entrances to mark them as a store-in-a-store concept.