What Independence Means to Our Retailers

Jun 30, 2021

I’ve been thinking a lot about the word independent lately.

My youngest child is headed to college this fall. This week we have been up in Philadelphia, taking her to the school’s freshman orientation. In fact, she is headed into the food marketing program at St. Joseph's University. A young woman interested in our industry has to be a good thing, right?

But I am pretty sure she chose this school, this major, even this city, with very little nod to me. She wanted to be far away, wanted the Northeast, wanted something totally different. As scary as college away from home is to my kid, being fully and truly independent of her parents is the bigger draw.

And because the school is set here in the city of Philadelphia, birth of our country’s independent movement, home of the Liberty Bell, etc., it is almost impossible to get away form the word, especially as we move into the Fourth of July weekend. 

To IGA owners, the word literally defines us. It is how we work, live, and support our communities. Even being part of the Independent Grocers Alliance still allows our owners to run their businesses the way that makes the most sense for their communities, regardless of what outsiders might think is right.

For example, if you had met me years ago, when I worked in the advertising world or for a vertically integrated retailer, you would have seen me using classic branding skills to drive business. I was fanatical about ensuring our brand message was tight, controlled, consistent. I used standards and process and behavior-controls to keep the brand under control. (You can’t have Home Depot logos in yellow, or purple. They have to be orange, and a very specific orange.) 

At IGA, we have brand standards, too. In fact, our visual merchandising tools today are the most comprehensive set of branding materials available in the industry—as good as anything available at traditional, vertically integrated chains like Publix or HEB. If you're looking for a world class branding experience in your stores, we've done the work (and the work is detailed and exhaustive) to ensure your store tells the message of Local Equals Fresh from parking lot to checkout. 

But here's a secret: I don’t care if you use the IGA system or not. Use it as is, adapt it, steal the idea and have your graphics team do something unique, whatever you want. As long as your marketing is modern and on point for your community, I know you’re doing the right thing!

This is where the outsider—in this case, the marketing training I had as a college student—would tell you that advice is just plain wrong. Branding is about consistency and homogenous messaging.  My old marketing professors would roll on the floor like they were possessed if they heard me tell store owners to “make it your own.” It goes against everything classic marketing teaches.

And I would tell them—respectfully—that they are wrong. The IGA brand is about family. It is built in and grown from one family putting themselves into the business of serving other families. It isn’t dependent on a consistent color of red, or one oval shape, or font. 

That doesn’t mean I don’t want our stores to modernize. In fact, I know that stores that put up our branding systems (as is or customized) grow comp sales, sometimes as much as 250bp. And those sales sustain. For a fraction of what it would cost to do it on your own, you can update your store interior or exterior, clean up messaging, and present a new modern face to your shoppers—and grow sales immediately.

But choosing to be part of IGA isn’t about that stuff. It's about proudly serving the community. It's about coming to work—long hours, weekends, and holidays—knowing what you and your staff do truly matters, even when you are exhausted and frazzled. It means enjoying the smile of shopper you helped, or the smile of the kid who gets a free cookie.

This holiday weekend, millions of Americans will come together and rejoin their families to cook outside, drink beer, and play with their kids, all because we are in their community to help them celebrate our country’s independence. We were there before COVID. We were there during it. And our amazing alliance—almost 100 years old and growing faster than ever before—will be around long after. 

What we do matters. How we do it matters more. And if we weren’t around to do it, our communities would suffer.

I am so proud to be a part if this amazing family. Enjoy your 4th of July weekend!

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