Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Behind the scenes with small grocery stores

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


Jenni said...

How I would love it if the Jack and Jill offered locally grown produce! They don't have much as it is in the way of produce. I wonder if people could offer their produce for sale in the store kind of on consignment. Are there laws that would make that difficult or would it just be too difficult to coordinate?

cindylinn said...

What I would like to know is if Cargill (I think it's Cargill) can take little trucks to rural farmers in Poland and sell them sacks of animal feed and make it work financially, why can't distributors sell to small grocery stores in less than $10,000 increments. Please explain this to me.

JeanneR said...

I believe this post is due to a conversation we had yesterday. Seems to me that the small towns need to start working together. I know some see it as helping the competition but sharing services could be a win win situation. If you do see it as competition, remember, COMPETITION IS GOOD!!! If 5 stores went together to place an order we could probably compete with the big guys and their prices!

Get Kansas! said...

Jeanne, you were my inspiration. Would you send your e-mail to I want to get you on our e-blast list. We've got to work together. Great comment!

Jenni,it seems like it should be easy to offer local produce but more issues about it than you can imagine.

Cindy Linn, exactly! We've got to make the system work here!

Mike said...

I’d echo your call for a rural grocery store symposium. It’s an issue in on the Northern Plains as well. Hope you’ll let us know if one emerges.