With IGA stores all over the world as unique as the communities they serve, one thing holds true whether you're talking about stores serving Sydney, San Diego, or Somerset, Kentucky: an independent grocer can customize their store to the needs of their local market better than any national chain. And when they do it right—leading with innovation and ingenuity—they're rewarded with increased sales and loyalty.
Locali by Romeo's IGA is taking that customization even further, offering an innovative concept to Sydney, Australia's Central Business District (CBD) neighborhood that is starting to wake up as COVID subsides.
"It's a unique experience—there is nothing in the CBD that offers that one-stop-shop where you can get your fresh food and supermarket items but also dine-in at the same time," says Owner Joseph Romeo.
In addition to their traditional grocery store offerings and a walk-in cheese room, the IGA hosts a dine-in restaurant, bar, coffee shop, sushi bar, and bakery, and also serves wood fired pizzas and ready-to-go meals.
It's an ambitious endeavor, but one that Romeo feels is an investment in the future of grocery. "We're changing the game. With the amount of different services we're offering our customers, we're evolving and catching up to what is happening in Europe and the U.S.," he says.
IGA CEO John Ross commends their ambitions. "The thing about Romeo's is they don't ever stay still," he says. "They're constantly curious about what best in class in retail looks like and they're never afraid to fail. They invest in an innovative idea, they keep and perfect what works, and they move on to the next idea. Because of that, shoppers recognize them as a store that is constantly delivering a better experience."
A better product indeed. The restaurant is a fine-dining stand out, led by Chef Orazio D'Elia and featuring Italian dishes like ricotta and pecorino-filled zucchini flowers with caponata, or a line-caught fish of the day, recently served in a peperonata with capers, olives, and basil. Customers can dine in or opt for take-out, and can even find the ingredients from the restaurant dishes in the store.
An independent grocer with upscale offerings is a unique find in the area, with Locali innovating and differentiating in a neighborhood dominated by chains like Woolworths and Coles to serve the diverse community, from "office workers looking for the best quality affordable restaurant and bar experience, to those after a quick and tasty bite to eat" from their grocery store, he says. It even offers an escape for world travelers who are staying local during the pandemic, like model Natalie Roser. "It reminds me of downtown LA, which I really like," she says. "It's making me miss LA but in the same breath it's satisfying my need for traveling."
Fine dining, wine, and sushi with a side of groceries, or is it the other way around? However you look at it, Romeo and his team have created a destination for workers as they return to the office, providing high quality food and groceries in a unique and fun environment. And while this stand-out store isn't the right fit for every community, the entrepreneurship can inspire other IGA retailers to look at what's missing and needed in their own communities and find a way to fill that gap, be it a dedicated section in the cheese aisle for locally made cheese, a wine cave featuring regional winemakers, or a to-go breakfast bar serving dishes created by a local chef. That's the thing about being an independent retailer—you're free to innovate to best serve your shoppers.
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