Learning from Each Other

Oct 22, 2019

Suppose you visited an IGA store, walked the aisles, talked with the owner. What kinds of issues would your peer be facing in their local market? How different would their challenges be from yours?

It wouldn’t be uncommon to hear things like this:

  • Labor shortage is hurting sales. It is getting harder (and more expensive) to recruit entry level talent.
  • Associates aren’t as loyal as they once were, with many leaving to pursue other jobs in shorter periods of time than ever before.
  • It is getting really hard to find experienced talent for high-service areas of the store, like deli, bakery, etc.
  • Shoppers expect more from their shopping experience—like higher quality and better service—but they don’t always expect to pay more for it.
  • Brands keep introducing new products, many of which won’t succeed. Labor to redo assortments and cut products in and out is higher than ever.
  • Competitors are increasingly more aggressive, going after discount, middle income, and premium shoppers all at the same time.

Sound familiar? What if I told you that list of issues came not from an IGA owner in your market—or even an owner in the U.S.—but rather from our retailers in China? Would that surprise you?

China’s one-child policy for most of the last generation has created a labor imbalance—not enough young people. Economic growth, sustained just like in the U.S., has created both labor inflation and stimulated more competition. In short, our family in China are experiencing many of the same issues we are facing here in the States.

Mark Batenic and I recently had the pleasure of attending the IGA China Rally in Changsha and saw firsthand how they are managing these and other issues. Not surprisingly, I think the way they are trying to solve their problems could be a great model for solving our own problems here in North America.


IGA CEO John Ross, Deputy Representative to China Zhe Zeng, and IGA Chairman Mark Batenic at the IGA China Rally.

  1. Inspiring associates to share ideas and best practices among each other. It turns out younger workers are highly motivated if they feel they are part of something bigger. Instead of telling them what to do, many of our IGA China retailers are giving them the challenge—improve sales in bakery, reduce shrink in deli, etc.—and letting them not only come up with ways to solve the problem, but encouraging them to share the idea across the chain.

    “We used to just direct: do this, do that,” one store manager said. “Now we tell them the outcome and let them figure out how to get it done and the results are sometimes better than what we would have suggested. And if it isn’t perfect, well, that is a way to teach, too.”

  2. They create a specific channel on popular social media platforms, like WeChat or WhatsApp (similar to Facebook Messenger), that let younger associates use a technology they are already using to gain status in their personal lives to also gain status at work.

    “They are already using their mobile phones for everything, so why not leverage that investment?” said one IGA owner. “It costs us nothing, but it gets them learning from each other, and so everyone is happier.”

  3. They created a unique program called IGAW, or “IGA for Women,” which is similar to a share-group. It encourages female associates to talk about work issues in an environment that is safe and accepting.

    “Our society is very traditional, and though we are progressive in many ways, we are still very male-centric in China,” one female manager told me. “Making IGA safe for women—even encouraging women to become a part of our family—helps us attract young women from other retailers. It can be stressful to be the minority in the workplace, and we are working hard to give them a voice.”

  4. Using IGA associates as raters to evaluate other IGA stores is one unique way IGA China has copied and improved upon the IGA Five Star program. They encourage associates to become highly trained in the IGA Coca-Cola Institute training library (they have to pass every course!) and then they get to rate other IGA stores for consideration as the IGA China Retailer of the Year.

“Working in just one store can often make you feel small,” said one young associate. “I didn’t know we were part of a big chain, in China or even globally. Now I get to see other stores, see I am part of something much bigger, and that makes me want to work for IGA.”

I so enjoy seeing our international stores, meeting the team members, and talking with them about their challenges and successes. And every time I am amazed that no matter where I go, our challenges are similar. But the strength of IGA is our opportunity to share ideas through creating and copying best practices. Somewhere someplace there is another IGA store owner facing a similar set of challenges and he or she would love to see how YOU are solving the same problems in your stores.

Looking for more ideas to overcome the challenges you face? Check out IGA’s Best Practice library for sales-building and problem-solving tactics being used every day in IGA stores around the world. Submit a best practice before December 31st for a chance to win one of three $1000 best practice awards at the IGA Global Rally in March.  

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