Are ethnic grocers the new version of the independent today?
As ethnic grocers open stores across the country, how will independent grocers fit in this changing landscape?
I have been a regular reader of Canadian Grocer since getting involved in the business at a young age. I always found that it gave me insight into the world of the business that we were never involved in – the large chain, high volume, and big brand marketplace.
My knowledge of the business was that from a small-town grocer where our differentiating factor was freshness and quality. It didn’t quite have the flash that came with the fancy television commercials or the newest big brand cereal product or change the way you make dinner innovations. It was plain old boring fruit and veggies, specialty platters and in-store made dinners.
The more and more I read, I find it quite fulfilling to see large chain retailers and suppliers are trying to capture our small-town charm.
What challenges the independent today is often the overwhelming competition that surrounds us.
Our small communities that supported one or two grocers, now find there are several formats that can supply them with their food requirements.
How can the little guys compete? How can we match the bravado of national marketing campaigns and loss-leader advertising?
We do not have fancy tag lines or theme songs. We cannot take losses on front-page items week in week out.
There are not massive volume rebate programs and advertising funds to support our operations.
What we have to remember is that all grocers started off as independents. It all started with a single-store operation where a community supported a grocer and trusted them to supply their family with the goods they required.
The most positive feedback we can ever receive is when customers approach us and tell us how they have shopped with us for over 25 years and have such fond memories of their food purchasing experiences. The opportunity for expansion and growth comes from there.
What we are now faced with is where will the next generation of independent grocers come from. The days of being a fruit stand, slowly building loyalty and expanding when the business needed it might be gone.
Could an entrepreneur with a passion for business be able to enter this business as a retailer?
As we hear of independents closing around the country, it seems the only new openings are those of ethnic specialty stores. Maybe that is the new version of the independent. Instead of serving a community in size and scape, it is serving a particular community of like-minded consumers.
I guess what all this pondering has to do with is trying to plan out our vision for the next 25 years.
How do we fit in, where will our growth come from, how will we retain and attract new customers? A lot of questions that need to be answered in a new landscape of grocery retailing.
We love this business and want to be doing it till the next generation takes over.
I think our answer is the same as it has always been. Stay true to our roots, serve our community to the best of our ability, work hard and hope for a little luck.
We need to stay ahead of the trends and partner with distributors and suppliers that understand the nature of the independent grocer. Individually we may be small, but collectively we are strong.