Everyone needs to eat. Having a grocery store is more than just a place to buy food. It’s a necessity for any vibrant town. You can’t have a thriving community without healthy, energetic people eating good food. People look for a grocery store when deciding where to live, and residents will be more likely to stay in your town with a grocery store close by.
Is your town’s grocery store struggling? Or have you lost your grocery store? Here are some simple first steps to get a handle on that situation.
1. Get folks together. If you have the best grocery store in the world but no one shops there, it will fail. The first step to turning things around is getting leaders in your community bought in to the idea. Call a community meeting. Talk to the folks in your town who can sway others so they feel included in the idea. Be energetic and excited! (Having delicious food at the meeting doesn’t hurt.)
2. Listen. What does your community need? Can you motivate them to be excited about a successful grocery store? Be sure to ask people at every turn what they’d like to see. What hours would be convenient? What kinds of products do people want to buy? Where should it be located? If necessary, are people willing to volunteer some time or invest money to make it happen? The more you listen, the more loyalty they will show.
3. Consider all ownership options. Many folks think a grocery store should be an independent retailer, but there are many successful models. Community-owned stores, co-operatives, or school-based models are other options to consider. The Center for Rural Affairs has written a report on ownership models for grocery stores, which you can check out at cfra.org/renewrural/grocery.
4. Stack enterprises. Lots of businesses have similar infrastructure needs. Could your grocery store have a coffee shop, cafe, bank, post office, or pharmacy attached? Are there other businesses or schools who could make use of the food distribution? More businesses using the same space and utilities equal lower costs.
5. Control energy costs. Utilities are one of the most costly parts of owning a grocery store. Consider ways to make your store more energy efficient. This can be as simple as putting doors or coverings on your coolers. Or you can get sophisticated with solar panels or a wind turbine for energy generation. I’ve seen systems that allow coolers to draw in frigid winter air from outside!
6. Best customer service. The most successful grocery stores are committed to pleasing customers. Have a prominent suggestion box and a bulletin board where people can see the questions and answers. If a product is requested, see if you can carry it, and make a big deal about the fact that you now have it. Be visible in the store, and know people’s names. Smile!
7. Involve everyone! If people have invested time, money, and energy into a project, they will want it to succeed. Make the store a source of community pride, and remember that a little positive peer pressure (with a smile!) can go a long way.
8. Share stories. There are many other towns doing exactly what you’re doing. Find their stories (or post your own) to find inspiration and ideas.
Source: This article first appeared in the June 2012 Center for Rural Affairs Newsletter. Other resources on rural grocery stores developed at that time include:
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