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'People' Should Be at the Top of Grocery Stores' List

Wow. Lots of activity on the grocery store front these days.

Here in Richmond, Aldi, Wegmans, Lidl, Publix ... just to name a few ...are invading our market.

Also, industry leader Whole Foods is talking about 're-working their approach' as competition rises. As noted in a Wall Street Journal article on Whole Foods just the other day...

"As stiffer competition erodes [Whole Foods'] profit growth, the natural and organic foods retailer is whittling away at [regional manager's] autonomy, centralizing and streamlining some functions in a bid to cut costs and boost its clout with suppliers."

What about boosting its clout with their customers?

The grocery store category is a tough one. Razor thin margins. New competition from every direction (WalMart and Target selling food, new overseas entries like Aldi and Lidl bringing fresh approaches, and online delivery services eliminating the need to even travel to the store).

But in considering how to prevail amid this business battle, I don't think the answer lies in 'increased automation and heightened operations.'

There is a tremendous relationship opportunity that exists between a grocery store brand and their loyal customer.

With loyal customers, a grocery store is more than price margins. It's an integral part of their everyday lives. A ritual. An important recurring relationship. Human interaction that happens three to four times a week. What other category promotes such frequent customer interaction?

Isn't the real value in making these mandatory trips as pleasurable of an experience as possible? Where people actually kind of look forward to going to the store. That comes via people.

It strikes me that several years ago grocery competitors were highly reluctant to enter into the Richmond market.



Ukrop’s was much more than a grocery store. It was about relationships. Community. It felt like home.

And, no one can displace "home."

How did Ukrop’s do it? Better prices? No. "Centralizing and streamlining" No.

Ukrop's did it through their people. They understood, long before it was fashionable, that their people and their values WERE their brand. This family based business understood the tremendous competitive advantage they would have if they took advantage of these frequent human interactions and made them special...through their people.

Ukrop’s implemented 'values training' and 'living the brand' exercises long before it was corporate cool to do so. And, though these approaches focused on the "soft side of business" and their own people, this 'strategy' allowed Ukrop’s to totally dominate the grocery business in the central Virginia arena.

Back then, no one dare challenge Ukrop’s. They had a "lock" on customer relationships. Customers actually used the word "love" in describing their relationship with Ukrop’s. That's the holy grail of branding.

As we always say here at Big River, people believe people. Ukrop's got this...big time.

So, as these "dog eat dog" grocery chains look for that leg up - perhaps they should leave the calculators and 'supply chain' strategies behind for a moment - and look to their own people. What values are they conveying? Are their people's day-to-day actions the kind of magnetic behaviors that make customers want to come back again and again?

Are their people living their brand?

Funny thing - it just could be that their check out person (or butcher, or aisle manager or other 'front-line' employee) should be the first thing that these battling grocery stores chains should "check out" if they want to win the grocery wars.

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