Progressive Grocer Independent

OCT 2014

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32 | Progressive Grocer Independent | October 2014 T he media frequently reports on the search for authenticity and real food or real re- tailers. But what makes something truly authentic or real? From a consumer standpoint, a "real" retailer has been there for a long time, has been consistent through the years and has always delivered value. An au- thentic retailer is someome the consumer trusts implicitly. My favorite real retailer is Vinny LaMorte, the proprietor of Vinny's Deli and Pasta, a deli and sandwich shop. A trip to Vinny's is always a delight — a great combination of tra- ditional favorites (homemade mozzarella, made fresh daily) and the latest fnds and creations. In my consumer mind, no other retailer is more real or authentic than Vinny's. But from a business standpoint, Vinny's isn't a "real" retailer. In this context, a real retailer has state-of-the-art POS systems, an extensive social media presence, com- plex targeted marketing algorithms, hundreds of identical stores and elaborate growth strategies. From a business perspective, the "real" retailers have developed systems and fgured out how to package them. Business and Consumers at Odds Tis leads to a conundrum: Consumers seem to seek, and become loyal to, home-grown, original, unique retailers, while the business world wants to grow concepts that are readily reproduced. In fact, the retail landscape is littered with unique stores that decided they needed to replicate themselves, only to fnd out that it's extremely hard to recreate the magic on command. But that doesn't mean that authenticity and size are always at odds. In fact, some major successes can be found by looking at "unique" stores that managed to take over the world. Upscale steakhouses ofer a good example. Once, it was simply understood that an excel- lent steakhouse had to be a one-shot venture. Morton's in Chicago, Smith & Wollensky in New York, and Ruth's Chris in New Orleans were all viewed as reasons to visit those cities, since the respective combinations of meat sourcing, aging capabilities and cooking talent were impossible to reproduce elsewhere. Tis thinking was so The Importance of Authenticity Consumers often seek 'real' retail experiences. ingrained that when Te Palm, in New York, decided to add a second location, it opened literally across the street so it could be " just like" the original. About 25 years ago, Morton's decided to prove the experts wrong by opening additional steakhouses. Not only was it successful at replicating the model in location after location, but it's also done so without diminishing the quality. Each Morton's looks about the same, delivers the same menu and charges the same hefty price. Moreover, each one delivers the same, unique experience — a combination of a great meal and a comfortable, clubby environment. Te company now has about 75 units around the world. If we look at grocery, consider Trader Joe's, which was a Los Angeles fxture before management decided to expand nationally. Te company took the essence of an authentic, unique, quirky format and is now churn- ing out stores by the hundreds. Guidelines to Live By What does all this have to do with independent grocers? It establishes an important set of guidelines for good independent grocers to live by. First of all, embrace your authenticity, your realness. Don't try to be Kroger — one of your biggest strengths is that you're not Kroger. Second, just because you're not Kroger doesn't mean you can't learn from it or Albertsons or Target. Look at the best practices developed by the big players and try to scale them down so you can use them. Consider the whole breed of suppliers that has bubbled up expressly to bring "big retailer" solutions to the smaller guys. Te conclusion is a simple one: Never give up who you are, and always be true to yourself and your cus- tomers, but at the same time accept and embrace evolv- ing technologies and techniques that can make your business better while not adulterating your essence. PGI The Independent's Edge By David Diamond Never give up who you are, and always be true to yourself and your customers, but at the same time accept and embrace evolving technologies and techniques. David Diamond is an independent consultant to leading retailers, manufacturers and service providers in the grocery industry. He can be reached at [email protected]

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