Wright's Market, the beloved hometown grocer located in Opelika, Alabama, has been a pillar of the community for many years. When the specter of inflation began to loom in June 2022, the store's visionary owner, Jimmy Wright, sprang into action, developing several innovative strategies to ensure the satisfaction of both his cherished customers and dedicated employees.
Given that a significant portion of his shopper base relies on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, maintaining affordable grocery offerings was of paramount importance to Wright. These measures, introduced in three waves, have led to increased sales, delighted customers, and a fully-staffed store — a testament to Wright's commitment to his community and his drive to uncover innovative solutions to the problems his customers face.
Above is a summary of Jimmy Wright's journey to retain shoppers and employees.
Step 1: Focus on Core Items, Free Fuel, & Employee Discounts
Wright started by assessing what was most important to his store's success.
“There were two things I wanted to hang on to: my customers and my employees," he said.
With that in mind, Wright considered the store's most popular sellers and his shoppers' preferences and needs. Wright's Market sells plenty of meat, with about 46-47% of its distribution in the category. And approximately 40% of retail sales come from SNAP.
To keep his customers coming back, Wright's Market set a fixed price on three core items in the meat department: ground beef, chicken wings, and ox tails, which have been in the store's advertisements for over a year.
"We were fortunate that things stabilized so we never got to that point where we took a loss on [the core items]," Wright said, adding that the prices of these items have fluctuated a small amount.
While Wright's Market doesn't have a gas station, Wright recognized that rising fuel prices were a huge concern for his shoppers. He partnered with a local gas station and convenience store to introduce "Free Fuel Friday," giving away 10 $25 fuel gift cards each week. He held an in-store registration and picked winners every Friday from a raffle drawing, running from June to September 2022. According to Wright, the store saw an increase in new shoppers and the effort was a hit with existing shoppers as well.
To show their appreciation to employees, Wright's Market gave them a 10% discount on groceries. The effort has remained a great success, as the store has retained its entire staff from June 2022 to the time of publication.
The results: Step 1 efforts worked well and continue to do so. Wright's Market saw a 14%-15% lift in comps and has had 100% employee retention.
Step 2: Bulk Meat, Free Food Friday, Store Remodel
Based on what he learned from Step 1, Wright expanded on his efforts in Fall 2022.
Bulk Meat Program
The store introduced a bulk meat program that offers about 22 items sourced from food service suppliers, such as 10-pound boxes of steaks, 10-pound boxes of ribs, and 15-pound boxes of fish. This program provides solutions for customers who typically buy these items from places like Costco or Sam's Club.
"If you bought some of those items in a traditional pack, it'd be more. It comes to us in bulk form and we just put some margin on that," Wright said. "We don't take as much margin on that as we do other items because there's no labor involved in it. It's just putting a sticker on the box."
Free Food Friday
As gas prices stabilized and food inflation rose, Wright took the concept of "Free Fuel Friday" and switched it to "Free Food Fridays." Just as the summer program offered $250 in fuel gift cards each week, the fall program granted 10 shoppers a $25 store gift card each week via in-store drawing.
Wright's Market received a $200,000 USDA grant to remodel his store in Spring 2022. This remodel emphasizes Local Equals Fresh branding from IGA. To highlight the local, fresh items, they moved the produce section to the front and placed it behind glass doors and energy-efficient refrigeration, which reduced shrinkage and energy costs.
The store also added three doors of grab-and-go items and five doors of discounted bakery items. Additionally, the store has 18 doors of frozen meat.
“I absolutely love the 'shop local, eat fresh, spend less’ signage. My goal is to put enough of these yellow signs so that it will glow from outer space,” Wright said.
Looking for value signage like this? Contact IGA's Megan Drazer here.
The results: Introducing bulk meat products and Free Food Fridays increased the store's average basket size to $45. Wright saw an additional sales increase of 2-3%. Despite rising inflation, Wright says the store has outpaced food inflation by about 4-5% over the last year, indicating true growth rather than simply riding the inflation wave.
Step 3: Reinvesting Marketing Dollars
Thanks to the remodel, the store saves approximately $1,000 a month from the energy-saving upgrades, which Wright has reinvested into more sales-driving efforts. Wright's Market has locked down prices on six core items, pricing them off Aldi's prices to avoid competition.
"We’re not looking for a battle, we’re not trying to get in a war with them," Wright said, explaining the methodology behind this strategy is the drive trips to his store. “We’re losing money on milk and eggs. We are breaking even on bread and bananas. And we’re making some money on that tea and water.”
Wright's Market ad for six core items.
Wright's Market advertises by putting out three promotional pieces every week along with other weekly ads. "We have a traditional ad and it’s only front and back — we do print store copies for that one. We run a bulk meat ad every week, and it’s got 22 items in it. Gross in those usually runs about 25% or more. And now we are running this ad with milk and eggs three times a week."
The results: Sales have been up 18% from 2022. Wright says this strategy may seem risky, but it allows him to keep prices low on core items for those SNAP recipients while making back profit on less essential items.
The Importance of Telling Your Story
While implementing these new business strategies, Wright's Market continues to inform their customers of changes and new offers through social media. Wright keeps a healthy balance of professional graphics and personal posts to ensure the store's social media presence is authentic and informative.
“We have found a combination of nice graphics and stuff that looks a little cheesy from us is good for our social media," he said. "That way, people know that you're genuine. They want to see that you're authentic."
For example, Wright made a simple video with his mobile phone to introduce the switch from Free Fuel Fridays to Free Food Fridays. In the video, he addresses inflation and shares what his store is doing to help customers during this time.
Jimmy Wright introduces "Free Food Fridays" to his Facebook audience.
They also give shoutouts to staff to boost morale. In fact, their Supermarket Employee Day posts resulted in 1.2 million impressions.
Wright's Market made social media posts for Supermarket Employee Day on the store's Facebook page.
“We just tell our story, and I think when you speak honestly to the customers, we’ve got a good reputation. Nothing takes the place where there’s a narrative you’ve written or video — that’s what speaks to people," Wright said. "They just want to know the hometown guy is here to help them out.”
With the cutback in EBT benefits, Wright said the store will keep doing everything they can to continue growing their top line and let their customers know how much they want to help. From the continued focus on core items, communication with customers, reinvesting energy savings in shopper-saving efforts, and more, the Wright's Market team is holding true to their word and Wright is optimistic about the store's growth.
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