We live in an area that is not lacking in grocery store options.
There are eight large supermarkets, three smaller grocers, and two warehouse clubs within five miles of our home. And over the course of the past few years, we’ve shopped each of them multiple times.
But one particular store has been our “primary” store for much of that time. Our choice hasn’t been driven primarily by pricing.
And it’s definitely not because price isn’t important. My wife is a sales-finding, coupon-clipping champion.
It’s just that with as much competition as there is in this market, no grocer seems to truly establish itself as a “price leader.” Sure, technically, one of them has to be, but it’s not enough of a difference that we would easily decipher.
There are actually two other grocers equidistant to our “primary” store, with layouts and selections that I prefer. But a trip my wife and older son took to our primary store last week reminded me of why my family visits it more than others.
My son was bribed into helping on the shopping trip by getting to choose something or other for the following week. He slapped on one of his FC Barcelona caps on the way out of the door.
As he and my wife walked by one of the departments along the back of the store, the department manager noticed my son’s cap and called out, “Messi!” He lit up.
My wife ended up having to leave him behind for a few minutes as they animatedly talked about all things “La Liga.”
My son later told me that it was cool that the “manager guy” liked the same teams and players that he does. I agreed. That was pretty cool.
Of course, what I thought was cool was that the actions of a store employee created a genuine, personal connection with a customer. I joked with my wife that I guess our son has a favorite store now.
She agreed and shared it’s the same reason she likes it. “They’re just nicer there. They actually act like they’re happy to see you.”
That’s a wise strategy whether you’re running a grocery store, bank branch, shoe store, or food truck.
Increased competition makes technology, price, and even geographical advantages fleeting. Authentic connections create preferences that tend to withstand a little competition.
Are you connecting with the customers around you today?
I recently read a short interview of Dominic Barton by Geoff Colvin for Fortune magazine. Barton is the global managing director of the renowned consulting firm McKinsey.
It may be a sign of the times that a certain piece of information shared didn’t really surprise me.
Barton states that 80 years ago, a company successful enough to be listed on the S&P 500 rankings had an average lifetime of 90 years.
Today, the average lifetime of a company that earns its way on to that list is 18 years.
So the average large company of yesteryear made it to nonagenarian status. Today, it’s better than average if it makes it beyond voting age.
Reading that, one of my most repeated mantras to managers over the past decade rang in my ears: “Evolution does not mean elimination, but failing to evolve guarantees elimination.”
I don’t believe business conditions today are harder than they were in years and decades past. Building and managing successful businesses have always been hard work.
Many romanticize the past as “simpler days.” But they usually weren’t. The past feels simple and safe now because…well, we know how it turned out.
The challenges we face today bring a level of tension and anxiousness we no longer feel about the past.
So, I definitely wouldn’t argue that being in business today is tougher than it used to be. However, the argument that the speed at which businesses must adapt to changing environments has increased is a pretty easy one to make.
I find that it’s not as much that folks are uncomfortable with change or scared of hard work as they are fearful of making mistakes.
That tends to be as true of the frontline folks implementing new practices as it is for management making major strategic decisions. And that is absolutely natural.
But we need to remember that making changes and adaptations as necessary are not confessions of error. It doesn’t mean we were wrong before.
We did things the way we had to do them.
What is wrong, however, is becoming more interested in defending how things have always been done than in making the minor (or major) adaptations our markets (i.e. customers) require.
Yes, mistakes will be made along the way, but future success lies on the other side of our mistakes.
Resolve to evolve.