Let me begin by saying that I love REI. It is one of my favorite retailers. I love the feel of their store, I love the quality of their merchandise, and I love the way they help me feel smart about outdoor gear, skiing supplies, etc. in a way that builds confidence.
But there is more I like about the chain. They make an effort to support the great outdoors. They invest in national parks and wildlife refuges. They buy used sporting goods and camping gear from garage sales that might have ended up in landfills, and recycle or refurbish those items to reduce waste. They give money to local efforts to build trails, playgrounds, and improve outdoor resources.
REI’s mission is one of the best at retail: "We inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship."
So, for me—a person who loves hiking, hunting, camping, national parks, and anything that gets me outdoors, under clear skies, and sufficiently freckled—REI’s values and mine align. Which means, when it comes to deciding where to buy outdoor gear, I go to REI over other (and potentially less expensive or more convenient) stores because their brand stands for more than just “selling stuff.”
What does IGA stand for?
Let's apply this idea of identity to IGA. If a new shopper came into your store and asked about your values, would your associates know how to answer? Would there be signage at the front of the store or around the perimeter that says, “Why buy from us?”
For many retailers, the answer to the question is easy: “We are part of the community. We donate to local food banks, participate in local festivals, give space to the Girl Scouts when they visit.”
The big question for us as local independent retailers is, “Is community enough?” Just being next door to someone doesn’t make you a true neighbor. Proximity isn’t what people want; they want a friend, a partner, someone to help them make smarter choices, feed their family, treat them with respect.
Try this activity with your family next time you sit down to dinner: Ask your own family to name one of their favorite retailers and tell you why they are their favorite. From sporting goods to hardware, fashion to grocery, the choice of their favorite retailer isn’t important. What is important is why they chose that retailer.
Listen closely. How many times in these other categories is price the reason they shop one retailer over another? Selection? Quality? Trust? Said another way, you might be amazed to hear how often price is only one of several reasons. And you might be saddened to hear how rarely the phrase “locally owned” comes up.
Think about local restaurants—you will bypass a local café if the service is slow, the food cold, or the selection boring. Local is a starting point, but by itself, isn’t enough.
When I am in an IGA, I think about what I would do if it were my store. And the first thing that comes to mind is writing down the answer to the question, “Why shop my store versus the competition?” I mean this literally. Sit down with your team at a white board or over coffee in the break room and do the exercise: Why shop us over Food Lion, Safeway, Dollar General, etc.?
I think our list will be long:
- What happens if a shopper doesn’t like a product they bought in our stores? Most IGAs give them a replacement or refund on the spot. That means we stand behind our quality, which means we have a quality guarantee. Do we tell shoppers?
- How good is our IGA private label? (I know the answer to this, as we took it into the test kitchen and compared it to national and other private label brands and it rocks.) We stand behind our private label—one of the best products you can buy on the shelf at any price! When have we last told shoppers?
- What about your deli or bakery? Most stores make some or all their selections fresh daily. Our ingredients are fresher than any other place they can get food, including a local restaurant. Shouldn’t shoppers know that?
- What about your meat department? Most IGAs have experienced butchers cutting meat fresh daily. Do shoppers know why having a real butcher means the meat they buy from us is better? Where would they learn this if they had never shopped our store?
You get my point. Often the things we do to be a better neighbor are hidden. We know them. Our most loyal shoppers know them. But occasional or new shoppers would have no idea. If your store traffic is down, maybe it’s because new shoppers don’t know why they should shop your stores.
Let’s tell them. Literally. Make a big sign for your entrance, or post a series of “reasons to shop IGA” signs around your store. Train your employees to tell shoppers about your advantages (“Did you know we cut meat daily, rather than buy from a factory out of state?”). Use social and digital media to tell your story.
I think being a great neighbor is so much more than just being nearby. Being an independent means great service, local products, great quality. We do things big chains can’t or won’t do. We have so much to be proud of, but we can’t be humble and we can’t be opaque. I wouldn’t know REI does all those cool things if it weren’t plastered all over their website, in their emails, and all over their store.
Our new, comprehensive visual merchandising system can help you boast the advantages of IGA through new signage and in-store communications. But whether you use IGA signs, make them yourself, or use other media to tell your story, now is the time to be proud of our amazing chain. Let’s go tell them why shop IGA!
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