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The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Pete Catoe
Founder and CEO, ECRS
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McCaffrey's Food Markets
McCaffrey's Food Markets

The most exciting aspect of grocery today is not what’s happening with the national and multinational big box players. Ironically, I see more excitement and potential at what’s going on in the undercurrent, happening just below the surface of the grocery industry. As big box and internet-exclusive retail players make headlines, a select group of local and regional grocers are becoming the surprise insurgents of a newly forming grocery revolution.

It’s the passion and persistence of longtime local and regional grocers like Pennsylvania-based McCaffrey Food Markets who are breaking free from the status quo, diverging from the pack, and winning in the brave new digital retail world. How are they doing this? They are:

  • leveraging the authenticity of their local and regional community brand (you can’t fake that).
  • deploying smart store design.
  • encouraging incredibly high-touch customer service.
  • using newly accessible backroom technology to drive down operating cost.
  • placing powerful customer-facing technology at the forefront of their customer experience.

It’s a powerful list of ingredients that, when combined, makes for a winning recipe.

Leveraging Local

Proven branding expert, Jerry Wilson, says authenticity is the key to building modern branding appeal, especially for local retailers. If there is one thing that local and regional grocers have in spades, that big boxes want and cannot achieve, it’s the real emotional connection to communities that comes with an authentic local and regional brand. 

Online social networks and anonymous forums cannot replace a community-based store culture. In fact, a 2013 meta-analysis found that internet use had a detrimental effect on individual psychological well-being. Exclusive online retailers and faceless big box brands are vulnerable to the more authentic local brands, because in truth, there is something deeply human and instinctual in the concept of community. 

In the coming years, local and regional grocers must maximize their value and emotional connection to their communities in order to add a powerful defense against the national big box and exclusive online retailers. 

Smart Store Design

McCaffrey’s Food Markets understands the importance of store design. They recently introduced a “Simply Fresh” concept store and the idea has been a big hit. The “Simply Fresh” concept store is in a landmark building that's smaller than McCaffrey’s other markets and the location features the “best of” their products. 

A few highlights of their smart store design include: 

  • gourmet prepared foods and sandwiches, 
  • hundreds of cheeses from around the globe, 
  • a gourmet coffee bar with a comfortable seating area, 
  • hundreds of organic and exotic product offerings,
  • and catering for every type of event.

As a result of their efforts, McCaffrey’s was awarded “2017 Overall Outstanding Fresh Excellence,” from Progressive Grocer. I was honored to have the privilege of introducing Jim McCaffrey IV for this outstanding award and recognition at The NGA Show 2017 this past week in Las Vegas.  

Incredibly High-Touch Customer Service

It goes without saying, high-touch customer service requires many points of human interaction. The retailer must be there for the customer, ready to listen to their complaints and create immediate solutions. Retailers need to place experts within their departments and employees need to know where to go in an instant for that expert advice. If a cashier cannot solve a customer’s problem, then he or she needs to have an easy path to traverse as they lead the shopper up the chain of command. 

In addition to placing experts in appropriate locations, it involves a higher level of training for all employees in every aspect of customer interaction. Customer service staff needs to be an expert on the whole operation, ready to efficiently handle customer issues without long help lines in wait.

McCaffrey’s is leading the way in high-touch customer service in their new “Simply Fresh” market. Each full-service department is staffed with expert chefs, butchers, bakers, and baristas during all open hours. The store is small (13,000 sq ft) so that it is easy for the employees to create an internal community and a personalized experience for every customer. 

From the expert butcher to the helpful shelf stocker to the smiling cashier, locals and regionals can and should build a personalized, humanized experience for their customers. 

Powerful Technology for a Seamless Shopper Experience

While grocers can handle the above points on the human management side, they need a partner to complement their efforts with innovative technology. McCaffrey’s is fighting back here, too. Not only with their long-time local appeal and excellent new store design, but also with a new cutting-edge customer transaction experience. 

This powerful new technology should make their larger contemporaries blush with envy. They’re deploying unified technology to drive their operational costs down (such as EDI through ECRS Gateway™), bypassing costly third parties by using direct payment integration with FDMS, and even implementing a more affordable, self hosted, vertically-integrated loyalty program.  

In addition, McCaffrey’s will soon be one of the very first grocers in the United States offering a truly unified commerce experience, whether a customer is at a store location or on their click and collect website. Their online customers will have the exact same transaction experience – the same on hand inventory visibility, applicable discounts and promotions, and personalized loyalty offerings – regardless of whether they choose to shop online, or in a McCaffrey’s store location. 

The Most Important Ingredient of All – Leadership

McCaffrey’s may not be the biggest, but they are quickly becoming the toughest of competitors by consistently outmaneuvering their much larger counterparts. Their size – which may have been seen as a disadvantage in years past, when big box was king – has actually become their greatest advantage. The agile and innovative nature of this regional grocer has allowed them to move at a speed that will leave most national competitors dizzy, confused, and grasping at straws. 

The leader and visionary behind all of these changes is Jim McCaffrey IV. Jim and his dedicated team are bound and determined to give customers the very best local experience possible. I think their actions (and recent award) speak loud and clear about how it’s going.  

Grocers like McCaffrey’s are leading this local and regional grocery revolution, which will not be televised nor read about in national news. You will only find it when you look for it in innovative leaders – the ones who refuse to back down from the fight.

About the Author

Pete Catoe is Founder and CEO of ECRS®. In 1989, as a young entrepreneur, he began a journey that would lead to what ECRS is today – an award-winning, innovative retail automation company with thousands of installations throughout the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean.  Read More

About ECRS

ECRS brings together retail software, hardware, and services to create the only truly holistic, unified retail automation platform on the market. By developing a framework of optional plug-and-play modules that work seamlessly with our core applications, ECRS’ CATAPULT gives customers the freedom to choose as much, or as little, automation as their business enterprise demands. Retailers can easily expand their automation framework as their business grows. Exhaustive research, intelligent design, and rigorous pre-market testing ensure that ECRS products integrate smoothly into existing retail environments. By providing retailers with automation tools that put real-time actionable enterprise data at their fingertips, ECRS empowers them to compete and expand their business in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Find out more at

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