business news in context, analysis with attitude

Spent yesterday on location at a Hannaford Bros. Festival store in Portland, Maine, the final retail stop for the Japanese video documentary that we’ve been producing for past few weeks. Great store, for (at least) the following six reasons:

  • The store has a bright, open appearance with an enormous emphasis on produce and meat. In both cases, the company has obviously made a strong investment -- not just financial, but also emotional and intellectual. The displays are bright and voluptuous.

  • The store does an excellent job of appealing to a broad demographic; it successfully caters to both the wealthiest and poorest residents of the Portland area. This means that it manages to balance an up-market approach to perishables with a down-to-earth marketing appeal that keeps it from appearing either expensive or out of reach. Tough to do, but well done by Hannaford.

  • The store is exceptionally well staffed, with associates (both full-time and part-time) who seem committed to the store beyond the next paycheck. They’re accessible to shoppers, and apparently knowledgeable about the company’s mission and strategy.

  • While low price is not the prime strategic imperative for Hannaford, we think the store does a good job of creating a value image. Maybe the prices aren’t always the lowest available, but the overall impression is of strong value that combines excellent product and a pleasing shopping experience.

  • Small thing, but we love it. There is an ample use of natural light in the produce department, using big windows and skylights to illuminate the section. We’ve always believed that natural light is one of the most under-utilized components in most food stores, as retailers prefer to control the lighting, thinking that customers prefer it that way. We disagree; we think shoppers respond better to an open, natural look.

  • Finally, we had a chance to chat a bit with Ron Hodge, president of Hannaford, and have always thought that he is one of the strongest leaders in the business. He seems to have a clear vision and handle on what the company’s strategy must be, the personality to provide leadership to the company’s many associates, and a steady, consistent hand on the tiller.

Terrific store. Interesting company (and part of the enormous Delhaize family of companies). And great management.

Hannaford remains a compelling story worth paying attention to.
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