Part 3: Meijer Retailer of the Year Profile


Beyond catering to different customers in new states, Meijer has developed new stores targeting specific demographics in its home state, such as two urban-format stores in economically challenged Detroit.

The Meijer team, however, insists it’s not the format, but rather the assortment, that’s most unique.

“It’s the offering that it’s important to adjust for an individual customer’s and community’s needs and expectations. Those stores in Detroit are 190,000 square feet, just like the stores we’re opening in suburban Chicago,” Hank says.

Uniquely Similar

Symancyk adds: “We really only have one format. What we do is try to make sure that the assortment in any particular store is reflecting what’s most important for each community that we serve. There’s where the variations would be, but the format doesn’t really change.”

Getting that right means keeping up with the pulse of local shoppers to ensure demands are being met, whether in urban Detroit, suburban Chicago or rural Kentucky.

“The determining factor is your people,” Symancyk asserts. “We have the benefit of being a regional company. That means we have a proximity and familiarity with our teams that some companies don’t have. We know our store directors. Our emergent teams had the opportunity to visit all of our stores over the course of the year. There’s some understanding around what might be most important in Fort Wayne, Ind., that’s somehow different than Manistee or Alpena, Mich., or newer stores in Wisconsin. Having that tight sense of communication,” he continues, “is really what we focus on — making sure we’re listening to customers and that we’re empowering our teams to take action on what they’re hearing that we’re doing well or what we’re not doing well.”

Adds Doug: “The customers determine what we sell or what we don’t sell — whatever they ask for or what we see they need.”

Beyond that, Meijer is striving to present its offerings to shoppers in a more meaningful, solution-oriented way.

“That’s where the customer’s changed,” notes Doug. “Our mom used to cook every day of the week. My daughter’s mom barely cooked any days of the week. One thing that we do need to do a better job at is helping the customer plan for that meal, what he or she may want that’s quick and easy and convenient.”

Enhancing the Center of Super

Symancyk concurs, noting that Meijer will continue to up its game on meal solutions, “whether that’s about information, preparation, or the ability to take and go. We really do believe that beer, wine and liquor are the kind of growth categories that are important to our customers, and also provide that connection to local that’s really important.” Health and wellness is also a priority, he says: “That really ties our worlds together across both drug store and food — it’s something that we’re mentally focused on.”

It’s all about Meijer’s core shopper, Symancyk explains. “One of the differences in a supercenter environment is that our customers walk in and they have a bigger basket,” he says. “The frequency [with] which they come to our store may be a little less, but the amount that is on their list when they walk in the door is a little more. That adds up to a little bit longer shopping trip. We believe the convenience of being able to get everything under one roof makes that valuable. That also means that she may not be as likely to want to sit down and have dinner in our store.

“We’re much more focused on how to provide that experience of foodservice in a way that she can take it home and save time putting dinner on the table for herself and her family,” he continues.

This realization and resultant focus have pushed Meijer to develop digital initiatives, including a pilot click-and-collect program, Meijer Curbside, that’s being tested at a Grand Rapids store not far from corporate headquarters.

“The digital age has really increased expectations from our customers, and really the public at large, around accessed information and really redefined convenience,” Symancyk says. “We are really focused on how do we help bridge that gap, and really look at digital being added to our shopping experience — whether it’s about product information or how we deliver value through [loyalty] programs like mPerks. How do we sync up with the various missions in a way that we can be more responsive to growing needs in areas like health and wellness, nutrition? Those are the places where our team’s working intently to try to be more responsive to customers,” he adds, noting that such efforts aim to “solve a problem [shoppers] have before they even know they have it.”

An early adopter of digital engagement, Meijer launched mPerks in 2010, which to date has helped more than 4 million customers clip 1 billion-plus digital coupons, with total savings eclipsing $400 million over the past five years. With the popularity of digital coupons and shopping apps trending at all-time highs, mPerks has evolved into a multifaceted program including personalized rewards and digital tools that help customers plan an entire shopping trip in advance.

“Interestingly enough,” Symancyk observes, “every brick-and-mortar retailer is trying to figure out how to find a virtual presence, and every virtual retailer is trying to figure out to create a brick-and-mortar presence. We’ve tried a little bit of everything when it comes to digital. What we’ve learned is that customers don’t necessarily think about a channel — they think about a retail partner brand. In our case, they know us for our stores, they know us for the trips that they make.”

The right solution, he contends, is “to build out from our stores. Continue to find new ways to innovate and deliver more convenience to our customers.” Meijer Curbside, he says, is the first step in a broader, evolving plan to determine “if that’s where our customers want to take us, or want us to take them. I believe that it will be, eventually.” As always, though, the fate of the program will ultimately boil down to a matter of “economics and convenience, and how that is going to play in the variety of communities that we serve.”

Mutually Dependent

As many traditional merchants are discovering as they feel their way through this new shopping reality, the solution appears to be how best to leverage historic retailing competencies with emerging technologies, and one of the keys to that is a well-trained and knowledgeable team of associates guiding shoppers on the path to purchase.

“The biggest part of what separates us is our team — our team members and the experience that they provide customers when they walk in the door,” Symancyk says. “A nameless, faceless virtual interface was never going to be as powerful for Meijer. The ability to add to that service experience by delivering convenience from the store to home, as opposed to from the home to the store, is part of the balance that I think we found. It really works for our business.”

While many traditional grocers are seemingly ceding general merchandise to auto-replenishment e-tailers to concentrate their full strengths in fresh food instead, Meijer — which offers a full array of general merchandise, along with fresh food and groceries — isn’t throwing in that towel. Remarks Doug: “We’d like them to ask us to pick their diapers for them.”

Every department, regardless of products, presents an opportunity to own the customer relationship, Symancyk notes. “There are lots of intrusive, competitive forces — some digital, some just new formats and new competition, and they’re coming in to try to stake their claim to serving those customers better,” he says. “I go back to what my mom told me: Rarely is doing something simply because everyone else is doing it a good idea. Look at what makes your relationship with customers special, and then [figure out] how can you use technology to enhance that. To deliver better value, to deliver greater convenience — that’s the question every retailer has to answer in their own way to figure out how to be most competitive. That’s against a sea of competitors, not just digital ones.”

This is the third in a five-part series on PG's Retailer of the Year profile story on Meijer. 

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