Food retailing can be a very rewarding business. After all, there aren't too many businesses that are designed around the premise of continuously fulfilling a basic and daily need of the population.
But it's possible to lose sight of those aspects of the business. Instead, much attention is given to the challenges that confront the business. So instead of being the satisfying and rewarding enterprise it should be, angst is generated because of competitive threats, logistical considerations, and so on.
Naturally, those challenges must be met in order for the business to survive, so they can't be ignored. But every once in a while, it's not all bad to reflect on what the industry can do to help those who really need its products. In this week's SN, you'll find a news feature, referenced on the front page, that takes a look at several retailers who have done the right thing by bringing stores to inner-city neighborhoods. They have also made money by doing so.
The trends concerning inner-city food retailing are increasingly clear, and positive. For many years, supermarkets retreated from cities, following population to the suburbs. It's well that move generally prevailed, since many companies that didn't see that fundamental demographic shift are no longer around.
Now, though, cities are changing and a new shift is taking place that shouldn't be ignored. Cities are no longer the desolate places they might have been a decade or more ago. Meanwhile, suburbs are changing, too, and becoming more urban in their own right. So, to some degree, the differences are fading and it is increasingly clear that there's great opportunity in city-based food retailing.
Many of those interviewed for SN's news feature contend that the type of stores that are successful in a city don't differ too much from successful suburban stores. Said one retailer, "There are more similarities than dissimilarities [between urban and suburban stores]. The components of running a good store -- offering customers a selection of merchandise at the right place and in a clean environment -- are equally important no matter where you are." Said another, "It's important to realize that our promise of high-quality food and low prices is realized in all markets we serve: urban, rural and suburban."
Indeed, as is pointed out in the news feature, the reality is that stores in the suburbs may experience attack by alternative formats, or they soon will. Meanwhile, stores in cities enjoy some insulation from competition, and are seen as a service by a grateful and increasingly affluent populace.
To be sure, there's a big difference in running a successful urban store and doing what's necessary to establish the store in the first place. Cities generally pose far more complex zoning issues. Also, potential construction sites are often brownfields that must be cleared and brought in line with environmental regulations. Conversely, some cities yield a bumper crop of vacant spaces that can be fairily easily converted to small-footprint formats and rolled out at a fast rate.