business news in context, analysis with attitude

There have been a fascinating series of stories from around the country looking at a number of different retailers struggling, to varying degrees, with a highly competitive marketplace.

In Illinois, for example, the News-Gazette reports that Niemann Foods, which owns 21 Save-A-Lot stores, 11 convenience stores, two discount liquor shops and 29 other grocery stores, most of which are County Markets. Remarkably, Niemann Foods has doubled in size over the past five years by being willing to adapt to local market conditions and adjust its offering to the needs of local consumers.

Niemann Foods has grown in a highly competitive, tight-margin industry “because it keeps close tabs on what its customers want and is willing to change accordingly,” the News-Gazette notes. And key to the approach, regardless of the format: “all the food has to be fresh and appetizing, all the right products must be available and easy to find, and every customer must feel appreciated.” And, of course, constant attention to value and price.

In Haring Township, Michigan, the Cadillac News reports that Meijer is preparing to do battle with an expanded Wal-Mart Supercenter by stressing features that it believes the Arkansas retailer just doesn’t have, such as a service butcher shop.

"We also contribute to the communities where we do business," Meijer spokesman John Zimmerman told the paper. "We take pride in having clean stores and we're very focused on keeping our costs low.”

Also in Michigan, meanwhile, published reports say that D&W Food Centers is going through its 20 locations on a store-by-store basis, adding new services and refurbishing the stores inside and out to align with perceived customer needs and desires.

In some cases, D&W will be adding Starbucks coffee bars, and in other locations it will be focusing on the prepared foods that has traditionally been the company’s differential advantage.
KC's View:
Clearly, in such a tough environment, it is critical to find any and all advantages in order to stave off the competition. It isn’t a time to be timid, we think; it is a time to be bold and aggressive, to flout conventional wisdom, and to reach out to consumers in new and innovative ways.