business news in context, analysis with attitude

The Economist has a nice piece about Publix, noting that it has managed to survive the onslaught of Wal-Mart stores in its operating areas simply by providing consumers with an alternative to the Wal-Mart shopping experience, a store that is a clear and unambiguous contrast.

Beyond fostering a service culture that depends on having employees invested in the company and the experience, “Publix has also tailored its products to fast-growing local markets more successfully than Wal-Mart has, boosting sales while carving a niche for itself,” the Economist writes. “The company has opened Publix Sabor stores in south Florida, seeking to attract shoppers from its large Hispanic and Caribbean populations. As well as offering packaged goods aimed at Hispanic customers, as Wal-Mart does in some stores, these shops sell prepared dishes, including red beans with pig's feet and stewed chicken, and perishables such as yucca root.

“In addition, Publix has gained a cult-like following amongst Floridians for its Publix brand goods such as chocolate-chip cookies, sub sandwiches and sweet tea. Publix began selling organic and natural products in 1996 and will open several stores devoted to such products this year. Wal-Mart began selling organic food only last year, and is now thought to be retreating from its initial ambitious plans.”

Meanwhile, the Buffalo News features a piece about how independent grocers are making inroads in that market:

“Strolling through his Dash’s Market on West Klein Road in Amherst, president Joe Dash proudly points out some of the store’s uncommon choices: seafood delivered weekly from Hawaii, dry-aged prime beef, and meats imported from Italy.

“The store is smaller than a typical supermarket, but the size suits his purposes. The shelves are stocked with a mix of local brands, national staples, and specialty brands that he and his team hand-picked from outside the area.

Dash runs three stores in a region dominated by heavyweights Tops Markets and Wegmans. But he and some other smaller operators are finding ways to grab a share of the market and grow.

Dash compares how the big chains are run to a symphony, and his own business to a rock band, relying on its smaller staff to set the direction. ‘We write our own music, hum our own tunes, and dance to our own music,’ he said. ‘We want to have a point of difference. And if we can’t find it, we try to create it.’”
KC's View:
That’s such a wonderful metaphor for independent-minded retailing.

We think that they key to survival these days is always being independent, no matter how big a company you are. Dash’s Market is a great example, but you can make the argument that in different ways, companies like Wegmans and Publix also show an independent streak. That’s what keeps them interesting.

No matter what the marketplace, no matter who the competition is, words like “clear,” “unambiguous” and “alternative” are critical to being credible and compelling to the consumer. There is no room for companies that do anything less.