I was in an IGA store recently, walking down the aisles and taking pictures (I take thousands of pictures of stores—my kids say I have more picture of potatoes than I do of them). There was a consumer in the aisle, and she saw my IGA pin and approached me, asking me what I was doing.
Now, when consumers find out I am from IGA Corporate, I know exactly what they will say. It is almost always the same:
“Your store here in my city is the best, the owners are great, everyone is so friendly, you always take care of my family, etc.” And on and on.
They usually tell me their favorite item in the bakery or deli, or about how the store sponsored some local charity, or fundraiser, or school. IGA shoppers love to brag to me about their store. I always smile and lean in, to hear their stories, to see the pride in their faces about “their” IGA grocery store.
Let me tell you, this was not the case when I worked for other kinds of retailers. In fact, it was the opposite. When I worked for big national chains, the moment where the shopper found out I worked for the corporate office, it was a totally different experience.
Instead of praise and pride, I almost always got complaints. In those chains, finding someone in authority meant an opportunity to “get to someone who can fix my problem.” Consumers saw me as a conduit to solve past injustice, as an authority who could redress wrongs done by a store staff who either didn’t care or were not empowered to make things right.
I am not naïve. I know that all retailers make mistakes. Grocery is too complex, too fast moving to get everything right. As good as we are, IGA owners know that if you look too hard you are going to find something amiss. We do the best we can with what we have and especially right now, with volume high and labor availability low, lots of things slip through the cracks. And with the holidays here, and stock levels unpredictable, things will probably be harder—not easier—for the foreseeable future.
Why then do our shoppers look beyond our flaws and still love us? Why do they tell me, over and over, across our country (and the world) how thankful they are for their local IGA store?
Unlike big, impersonal chains, we are seen as a part of community. They know that if something goes wrong —a missed delivery, a quality control problem, long lines at the register—that the person to fix the problem isn’t at corporate. It isn’t me. It doesn’t need to be a corporate executive with a clipboard and a set of rules, because the people in store will make it right.
The word ‘thankful’ gets used a lot this week. In the U.S., our Thanksgiving holiday is all about reflection and recognition for the things that are meaningful to our families.
Isn’t it amazing that our shoppers are thankful for IGA? Isn’t it awesome that the reason they are so grateful to have our stores in their neighborhoods has nothing to do with a big corporate office, or some directorial leadership system, and instead is just about the people who come to work every day, helping to feed their families?
When I told a friend this morning that I was writing a Thanksgiving blog, he suggested I begin with a sentence about how thankful I am for “the best friend ever.” He was right, I am. And for my family, and extended family. And I am truly thankful to the IGA owners who have entrusted me with this precious brand; to the brands who entrust IGA to grow their sales; and for the wholesale partners who allow my team to support our shared IGA stores.
And finally, I am thankful—just like that sweet person in the store this week—for all the IGA associates who came to work, stayed late, endured extra hours, dealt with emotional shoppers, and still carried the message forward in this difficult year. IGA is a brand that cares.And that is worth being thankful for, all in its own.