Key Takeaways from the West Coast Int’l Supermarket Management Class

Sep 25, 2019


What happens when you 
have nearly 40 new and seasoned supermarket managers representing seven countries and eight states gather in California’s wine country to learn about industry trends, discover best practices, develop their leadership skills, and share experiences with their global peers? A whole lot of learning—and a good deal of wine tasting, as it turns out.  

For 2019—the 15th anniversary of the first International Supermarket Management Class (ISMC)—the IGA Coca-Cola Institute is holding two ISMC events, one on the West Coast and one the East Coast. Both classes have the same core agenda, but with different featured speakers and faculty members, and an optional day of immersive learning that takes advantage of the unique class locations. 

The West Coast class wrapped up four days of interactive learning sessions (with an optional fifth day wine excursion) last week, and by all accounts, the class was a huge success—thanks in no small part to Red Oval Partner E&J Gallo, who sponsored the event held September 15–20 at Louis M. Martini Winery in St. Helena, California, located just outside of Napa.  

“We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with E&J Gallo on this event,” Paulo Goelzer, IGA Coca-Cola Institute president said. “The winery provided a beautiful backdrop for learning, and a great opportunity to really explore how to manage the wine category to improve sales.”  

According to Goelzer, the decision to return to two classes this year was about making the classes more accessible for retailers, but also about providing an intimate experience with more opportunity for participation. 

“A limited class size is important to give the close, personal learning experience we want, and that worked perfectly at the winery,” Goelzer said of the location, where students attended classes in a wine cellar and enjoyed gourmet, locally-sourced closing dinner paired with E&J Gallo wines. Those staying for the optional fifth day wine class took a tour of the William Hill Estate Winery, experienced the wine production process from vine to bottle, and learned best practices for marketing and merchandising wine to shoppers.  


And yet, with five days of immersive learning, it was far from all wine all the time. Students of the West Coast ISMC left with all manners of grocery insights, all focused on developing the industry knowledge and leadership skills of independent grocery store managersTake a look at these key takeaways and tactics.


Driving Sales through Differentiation  

IGA CEO John Ross opened the class with a lesson in driving sales through differentiation. Using IGA’s national Local Equals Fresh brand strategy as a model, Ross demonstrated that your true point of difference should be something that people care about.   

“We live in an age where shoppers are more passionate and more concerned about food, health, and wellness than at any time in recent memory. American consumers want to eat smarter and make better choices for their families. And increasingly, they believe their local retailer is better positioned to help them win than national chains,” he said.  

According to Ross, Local Equals Fresh was an obvious choice for a national brand strategy because it essentially amounts to taking credit for what IGA retailers are already doing, like buying from local farms, supporting local businesses, making local recipes, and supporting the local community.  


And while Local Equals Fresh is a national brand strategy that applies to all IGA stores, it need not be the only strategy you employ to differentiate your store from the competition and help you increase salesRoss suggests involving the key members of your leadership team in an exploration process that covers these steps.  

Tactics: Find a Winning Brand Strategy for Your Store  

Ask Yourself… 

  • What do we stand for?  
  • What do we do better than anyone else?  
  • Why would shoppers choose our store over another? 


  • Play to your strengths.
  • Don’t try to be something you’re not.
  • Don’t try to win everywhere. Focus on 2-3 key areas.
  • Gentle, continuous improvement wins over time.
  • Don’t blame the competitionuse their weaknesses, but focus on your strengths.
  • Check in with shoppers. A lot. 
  • Attack with a service mindsetserving shoppers, associates, and your community wins over time. 


Learning from other retailers has always been a key part of ISMC, but this year Goelzer and his team had an obvious resource for proven sales-building tactics in the Best Practice Awards finalists for 2019. Over the course of the class, a number of IGA retailers presented proven best practices that make their store stand out from the competition and increase sales.  

Choose-Your-Own Meat Bar adds $500 per Week in Pure Profit  

Tyler Trask of Granite Falls IGA in Granite Falls, Washington shared how offering a meat bar in the deli with a variety of store-prepared meatsranging from wings and pork ribs to kielbasa and meatballs—generates roughly $1,000 in sales in the meat bar per week, for a weekly profit of $500. 


  1. Analyze your power and space needs to determine if the meat bar will work in your store. 
  2. Talk to your distributors to determine which products are available. 
  3. Nine weeks before you want to launch the meat bar, place the order for your case. 
  4. Develop a marketing campaign to let customers know that the meat bar has arrived. They used Facebook, weekly email offers, in-store digital coupons, and game day specials to promote their products.  

Department Demo-Ramas Drive a 10 Percent Sales Increase  

Brian McGregor of Archie’s IGA Plus shared how hosting four “Demo-Ramas” a year featuring demos and samples in each department throughout the store leads to a 10 percent sales increase for the entire store on the day of the event.   


  1. Plan Ahead. About a month before the Demo-rama, each department begins planning what they will demo and what supplies will be needed.   

  2. Get the Word Out. Two weeks before the Demo-rama, promote the event in the ad and on social
  3. Choose your Recipes Carefully. Give customers something that is interesting enough that they want to take it home for the family, but simple enough that they aren’t intimidated.

  4. Be Prepared. On the day of the demo, give yourself plenty of time to get set up. Make sure that you have the stations prepped with everything each department will need. 

Turning Loss into Profit with “Cheese Orphans”  

Harvest Market IGA’s Jennifer Bosma shared her store’s idea for repurposing the scraps left over when they cut cheese in-house. Instead of throwing them away, they package and sell them as “cheese orphans,” selling roughly 50 a day at $3 to $5 a package.  


  1. When you get to the ends of a gouda or a weird shape cheese, cut them into small pieces.
  2. Package and label the cheese orphans just like you would other cheese, and price them the same per pound as the full-sized cheeses. 

  3. Create a display that explains the concept of cheese orphans. Harvest Market uses a basket and a chalkboard sign. 

  4. When customers are looking for a sample of a cheese, just direct them to the cheese orphan section. It really doesn’t require any promotion, as it sells itself. 


Social Media Tactics that Work 

This year’s classes are being led by the largest group of facilitators ever assembled for an ISMC event. In total, more than 22 industry experts and retailers shared insights on how to take your business to the next level, touching on topics ranging from operations and finance to merchandising and marketing.  

At the West Coast class, Eric Anderson of AR Marketing, the Red Oval partner behind IGA’s branded social media programs, provided insight on the benefit of social media for advertising and promotion, as well as tips and tactics for developing and executing a social media marketing strategy.  

Tactics: Create a Social Media Marketing Strategy 

Determine Goals 

  • More foot traffic 
  • Brand awareness?  
  • Showcase a new product?  
  • Gain new email subscribers?  

Research Your Customers  

  • What channels do they use?  

Editorial Calendar 

  • Never miss important dates  
  • Organize content  
  • Determine posting frequency/best time to post  

Pro Tips: Content Strategy Breakdown 

  • 70 percent: original, relevant, and fun content 
  • 20 percent: shared content 
  • 10 percent: promotional content   

Want more takeaways?  

Stay tuned to The IGA Minute for upcoming columns and feature stories from West Coast faculty members, as well as coverage from the Bozzuto’s Inc.-sponsored East Coast class taking place October 6—11 at the Comfort Suites in Southington, Connecticut.The East Coast class will feature different faculty, and the optional fifth day will provide an opportunity for attendees to visit stores and explore best practices in action within Bozzuto’s stronghold of independent operators in the northeast. 

Want to experience ISMC for yourself?  

Spots are still open for the East Coast Class. Click here for more information and to register to attend.  

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