Back To The Future

The more things change, it seems, the more they stay the same.

I'd like to welcome you to the first edition of Progressive Grocer Independent with a quote from a past issue of our flagship brand, Progressive Grocer:

"He studied the chain store system — all of its little efficiencies as well as the big ones — and he began fighting it with his own weapons, literally. He had something in his store that the chain store might never have — a personal interest in the customer. That is the one place where the smart, independent retailer has the chain store dragon right on the hip."

Edward Hungarford, "What Does the Future Hold for the Independent Grocer?"

What's interesting about the above statement is that it came from the first story in the first issue of The Progressive Grocer, which published its inaugural issue way back in January 1922. But what's even more interesting is that what was written back then still remains true today. Independent grocers' close relationship with the communities they serve — and within which many actually live — is still a key differentiator against their large-chain competitors.

This closeness is why consumers still trust their local grocer while remaining wary of Big Business. As National Grocers Association CEO Peter Larkin says in our Q&A on Page 36, "We are closer to the customer, as we're not a big business; we are small businesses. We have our finger on the pulse …"

Meanwhile, Mark Batenic, IGA's CEO, also shares his seasoned observations on independents' community connection as the critical reason for their everlasting relevance, which he says "is evident in the growing segment of shoppers who have determined that personalized customer service from a member of the community is more important than price — even in a struggling economy — which suggests that independents are quickly becoming the most relevant retailers around."

And though many aspects of independent grocers' fundamental advantages are indelible, many of the tools independents now use to further enhance this closeness to customers have changed dramatically. When he wrote about what the future held for independents, Hungarford clearly wasn't thinking of blogs, mobile marketing and social media, or the many other innovations independent grocers have developed to stay close to the customer.

Our cover story, for example, features Ring Bros. Marketplace, which features among its innovations the company's business model itself: six former standalone local businesses brought together by Ed Ring. While each business was in its own right a star among Cape Cod consumers, the new offerings they bring to shoppers as a unified operation has not only made their shoppers happier, but has also generated more sales.

Tying everything together at Ring Bros. is my good friend Donald Fallon, who as the company's general manager is an example of how innovation isn't just about processes, but also about bringing innovative people into the business. Equally at home behind a computer or a grill, he's probably one of the only IT experts you'll see holding cooking demonstrations and classes for shoppers. This past year alone, he installed new front end fixtures and POS hardware and software, launched the company's redesigned website, managed its Facebook page, and integrated Ring's Four-square community into its loyalty program.

Indeed, it's because there's so much happening among the independent grocer and wholesaler community that we launched this supplement, which will be published as a bimonthly standalone magazine next year. And every issue will be packed with case studies of real independent grocers meeting real independent grocer challenges.

Additionally, we've created a place online where you can connect with other independent grocers and wholesalers directly: The Independent Grocer Network (www.independentgrocernetwork.com). It's a 24/7/365 community for our readers to share information and pick each other's brains about all things related to independent grocers. We invite you to join the discussion!

I wonder whether, 80-some-odd years from now, a Progressive Grocer editor will stumble upon this column, and have a good laugh at how primitive things were "back in 2010."

But one thing will certainly be the same, and that's the closeness of independent grocers to the people and communities they serve.

Unless of course, food is digitized by then.

Joseph Tarnowski

Director of Integrated Media/Technology Editor

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