Progressive Grocer Independent

APR 2016

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Underserved Markets Business those numbers. While the process of actually applying for and receiving federal grant money may be rigorous, Revy attributes the ultimate approval to community support, both from local government ofcials and customers. In the case of University Circle, break- ing 60 years of habit wasn't easy, but marketing healthy food at afordable prices ultimately brought in customers. "People would like to shop where they live," Revy asserts. "Tere is a conve- nience factor, but also a stabilization of the neighborhood. It's extremely important to understand that retailers can thrive." Rural Issues Much of the media attention on food deserts focuses on urban neighbor- hoods, but rural communities are just as underserved, and present a completely diferent set of challenges. Whereas urban neighborhoods have a built-in customer base nearby, rural stores have to deal with a customer base spread across several miles. To help address the unique chal- lenges of rural food deserts, Kansas State University's Center for Engage- ment and Community Development (CECD) developed about 10 years ago the Rural Grocery Initiative, which provides guidance to entrepre- neurs and communities looking to open grocery stores. "We quickly came to realize that there are broad census tracks in Kansas and in rural parts of the entire country where no grocery stores or su- permarkets exist," says David Procter, CECD director. "Small, inde- pendently owned gro- cery stores are critical to the sustainability of these small towns. Tey are anchor businesses, and when the stores struggle or close, it's really a signal that the community is in trouble." Te Rural Grocery Initiative is dedicated to identifying the challeng- es these stores face and responses to those challenges. Tools and resources are provided both to those who want to open new stores and those who are already operating a business and may be struggling. For example, for many consumers in rural areas, driving long distances for groceries is just a fact of life. "Tey're just as happy driving to a city 30 miles away to buy groceries as they are to buy locally," Procter says. "But the diference between a lot of these stores being successful or not is how much the community — those who live within the town and those in the surrounding farms — are willing to support the small store. Tey need to become part of the fabric of the town." Rural Success Story Conway Springs, a town of about 1,300 in south central Kansas, at one time had three small grocery stores. In 2007, the only supermarket left was for sale, and Clint and Jenny Osner began thinking about opening their own store. Te store for sale was too small for their purposes, so they built the 9,000-square-foot Hired Man's Grocery, which ofers a full line of product oferings, from fresh produce to meat cut in-house to canned items. Te next closest store is 17 miles away, but many of the area's residents commute to work in larger nearby cities such as Wichita, so the Osners must compete against the big-box- type stores found in those communi- ties. "When you live in an area like we do, you tend to drive and do bulk grocery shopping for a week or a month," Jenny Osner says. "Te thing is that when you do that, you only have fresh produce for a short amount of time; then what do you do?" At Hired Man's, the Osners real- ize that they may be only a fll-in shop for some customers, but for others, the store is their primary grocery store. Terefore, anything that a consumer may need is available. "We carry things that you're not going to be able to fnd at Walmart," Osner adds. "We're going to carry things that maybe are a special request. You have to try to fnd your niche of what the consumer will get that they just can't get at the superstores." Both Osners were born and raised in the community and thought they knew it well; however, after open- ing the store, they quickly knew it much better. Going forward, they're working hard to become even more integrated into the community by sponsoring diferent events such as the Fall Festival, and helping out lo- cal organizations like scout troops. As much as stores in previously underserved markets face unique challenges, the elements of operating a successful store remain the same as anywhere else: Ofer what customers want at prices they're willing to pay, and become an integral part of the local community. PGI 40 | Progressive Grocer Independent | April 2016 "The thinking that if business would thrive there, retailers would already be there, is not really true. It's really the model that exists that precludes it." — Andrew Revy, Constantino's Market HIRED MAN'S GROCERY Clint and Jenny Osner built the 9,000-square-foot grocery in their small town as a way to fill a community need.

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