A week or so ago, at the National Grocers Association's Executive Management Meeting, Charlie Cook (the political pundit) shared his thoughts about the upcoming elections over lunch. In his trademarked style he shared the historical background of elections and gave a glimpse into what will probably be the outcomes in November. The bottom line? People vote with their hearts - not their heads.
Which got me thinking about why people choose certain food stores over others.
Over the past couple of years many shoppers have been passionate about finding those retailers where they could save money; and as a result discovered new places to buy their foods. But the reality is that prices are pretty similar in most locations, and driving an extra half hour might well eat up any savings in gas money.
Most times, people buy their foods in stores they like. Stores that are clean, friendly and are pleasant to shop in. There is a Ralphs in Palm Springs, Calif., that stands as a perfect example of being “liked.”
This store, five years ago was in terrible need of a remodel. Located in an aging strip mall with a few empty stores with for rent signs, one would just look and wonder how long it would take for this store to follow the same fate.
And then there were rumors. A new shopping center was to be built less than a quarter mile away — and with a brand new supermarket. Ralphs days were surely numbered now.
Almost a year before the new store was to be opened, Ralphs embarked on what I would call a super remodel. As old as the store had been, the architect took no prisoners and designed a comfortable environment — expanding the service departments and produce, adding a coffee bar (not Starbucks) and a temperature controlled mahogany wine room.
Shoppers embraced the remodel and the once near empty store was filled with people loading up their carts; and when the new store finally did open, it was somewhat of a non-event and didn't hurt the Ralphs. But there was something much more at work than a shiny new floor at Ralphs — their staff.
Before the store's remodel, most of the staff (and I say this with respect) also needed to be freshened up. I understand that working in a tired store makes you tired as well, and stepping up with great service and a smile is harder than it should be. What Ralphs remodel did was to invigorate and empower their employees. These people actually seemed to enjoy working there! And a couple years later they are still smiling and doing their part to maintain the positive energy in the store.
Shoppers like shopping there and the staff likes working there. What a combination. There are other retailers who know this secret — Wegmans, Trader Joe's, Publix and the Lincoln Park Shop Rite are just a few examples — but there are many others who understand that there is more to selling food than just having the right price. In today's world, that is just the price to be in the game.
Back to Charlie Cook's words of wisdom: “People vote for people they like.” And people shop for food in stores they like. What builds a relationship with shoppers who come back week after week is creating an environment that is convenient, comfortable, celebrates food … with a staff that wants to be there.
Phil Lempert is contributing editor of Supermarket News and CEO of The Lempert Report and SupermarketGuru.com. He is a well-known author, speaker and media personality focusing on topics such as consumer behavior, trends and new products.