I got a call from a town of 1,100 today. They haven't had a grocery store for awhile and they really need one. They have a non-profit group that could own the building but then they would like to lease it to someone who wants to have a profitable business. Or, in other words, they don't want to go the community-owned route or run it as a non-profit. That makes sense.
Here are the issues.
Where do you find these models that work in small towns?
Where is the guidebook that tells you how to find a grocery store owner willing to put a store in a small town?
How do you find a regional grocery store owner who is struggling with the $10,000 a week volume minimum that needs to own two stores to get rid of the inventory?
How do you convince your locals that it's necessary for the store to charge a little bit more than the big box stores because of the low volume?
Do we need a list of best practices for small stores? All the best practices (clean store, friendly service) don't matter if you can't find a way to get groceries in the store. But, if you do get groceries you sure better put your best foot forward to gain customer loyalty.
It's vicious to figure this all out. It's more than difficult. It requires determination from people who are maniacs for their town.
I think we need a completely new paradigm for rural grocery stores from distribution to marketing the stores as destinations. With a new system, these could be the stores that carry local produce. With volume buying of coolers, maybe these stores could be as green as possible. Maybe they could be developed with a nostalgic decor and become a destination -- like Murphy's Mercantile has done in Stark.
We need a two-day Midwest Small Grocery Store symposium to get all the best minds together to create a completely new vision and way of doing business for small stores. Let's not just take ideas off the scrap pile, let's figure out a new model for a New Rural.
What will it take? Awareness of common SMALL grocery store issues, a vision of new possibilities, knowledge of the network, and a financial management plan.
We can't be scared to reach, we can't hold back from finding new ways to do things. Do we think small town life is valuable to the world? Hec yeah!
Stretch your mind to "Get Kansas!"
KE #2 Marci Penner