MINNEAPOLIS -- Why should someone do business with you rather than someone else?
The answer to this critical question lies in a retailer's ability to attract new customers by structuring the company around flexible programs and seeking new ways to add value to in-store departments, said Sam Geist of Geist & Associates, Markham, Ontario, during the Retailer's Bakery Association's In-Store Bakery Executive Conference held here.
These attributes have a direct impact on consumers, he said.
"You must be a desirable destination for your customers," he said. "The question when [customers] enter your store should not be if they'll buy, but what they'll buy."
Geist noted that retailers are shifting away from their traditional manufacturer focus to a customer service-oriented one. Still, retailers waste too much time worrying about the competition, instead of focusing on the needs of their customers.
"It's not about the competition," he said. "When is the last time they bought from you?"
Retailers must realize that value is in the customer's perception, not their own, he said. Operators can settle on merely meeting their customers' expectations, or strive to surprise them.
"Your customers expect there to be food on the shelves," he said. "Try giving them something they don't expect."
He cited Dallas-based EatZi's as a profitable example. "EatZi's offers samples of more than 20 varieties of bread. So what happens? Almost everyone buys the bread."
In the consumer-driven supermarket industry, the customer is the judge, jury and executioner. It is not enough to think as they do today, he said. Retailers must anticipate their customers' needs and expectations of tomorrow, and quickly take the initiative.
"Changing is tough," he said. "Not changing is terminal. Change is the only constant in today's marketplace. Either we capitalize on it or capsize under it."
He stressed that change can be a catalyst for success. The market is different today and businesses need the ability to bend and adapt to the changes going on around them. Geist quoted the last words of a dying business as being, "We've never done it that way before."
Businesses should continually challenge themselves to be slightly better today than they were yesterday, he said. For a lot of companies, the future is blurred because they assume they'll be around forever and it just isn't like that.
"The only way to survive is to grow the business," Geist said. "And to do that you must get and keep the customer. Treat customers like your life depends on it, because it does."