Focusing on the Basics

To Move Forward, Focus on the Basics

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To Move Forward, Focus on the Basics!
Many, if not all of you, compete on a daily basis with Walmart. Whether it be a huge Supercenter, or a more ‘traditional” Walmart, the presence of this retailing giant is felt virtually everywhere. So it might be questioned that I base this week’s column on comments made by a Walmart leader. I’ll explain it this way: when I read an article reporting that the executive vice president of Walmart’s U.S. food division talks about focusing on “basics”, I take notice. This company, literally, has access to every technology imaginable, and can scientifically measure customer responses to just about every aspect of their marketing strategy. In light of all this, Charles Redfield of Walmart proudly reports that the “basics” are his company’s focus moving forward.  So I thought I’d share his thoughts with you.

Mr. Redfield spoke to “an estimated 220 suppliers and community leaders” at a recent  corporate luncheon, and he stated that “even though consumer behavior is changing to shop online, Walmart believes  success begins with our stores. And we can tell you that for the last nine quarters straight, we’ve had more people, more footsteps and more transactions in our physical stores. We have over 4,000 stores across the U.S. right now, and we’re focused on getting the basics right.”

MERCHANDISING TIP OF THE WEEK. Mr. Redfield explains this philosophy: “’Basics’ means a clean store, a fast experience, friendly people, and great merchandise. Those things are top priority because those are what our customers expect. So the focus is on the basics, along with trying to make stores operate more efficiently.”

A clean store. I think, if asked, most of us would immediately say that our store is clean. And, for the most part, that is probably true. Last week, Caito Foods underwent an extreme “audit” of all aspects of our operations as they pertain to food safety. And I’m not talking about a fifteen minute walk through our Distribution Center—this process involved literally checking out every square inch of our facility, with swabbing of drains to check for bacteria as well as walking the perimeter of our buildings looking for any evidence of pests. I’m proud to report that, after that grueling 48 hour examination, we achieved a score of 98%, our highest ever. So in thinking of how we strive here to maintain that level of food safety, I ask what steps you are taking to go far beyond just a “surface” appearance of cleanliness and sanitation.  What’s under those refrigerated racks where you display—day in and day out—products that your customers buy? And take a look at your backroom storage cooler—how long has it been since you cleaned and sanitized that area?  Your prep area: would it pass the “swab test”?

A fast shopping experience. According to the Time Use Institute, the average supermarket shopping trip takes 41 minutes. So, doing the math and based on an average of 1.5 trips per week, your average shopper spends over 53 hours a year in your store. Women shoppers take a few more minutes than men and, surprisingly, those shoppers under 30 take longer to shop than those over.  Other studies have shown that the most “buying” in a shopping trip takes place early in the shopping experience—hence, the importance of locating the produce department early in the traffic pattern.  While your loyal customers might be willing to dedicate those 41 minutes each week to your store, they will not  find it favorable to be there longer. So product locations and merchandising should be mindful of that time expenditure, and obstacles to the trip moving along at a reasonable pace will only serve to alienate your customers . Of course, the checkout procedure comes to mind, but that is not the only part of the shopping experience where delays can occur. Are you making your customer wait while you re-stock displays of sale items? Have you “strategically” located the display of that “red-hot” item so well that the shopper has to spend an extra minute or two finding it?  And how easy is it to find an associate when a customer has a question or concern?

Friendly people. I’m pretty sure that customers might define “friendly” a bit differently than many of us would! For example, at the tail-end of that 41 minute expenditure at your store, your customer enters the checkout area. Now is a great time to have a friendly associate create a positive final encounter that will be remembered. We’ve all, unfortunately, been saddled with that store associate who feels it is his responsibility to comment on every item purchased and, midway through the checkout procedure, to turn to another cashier and continue an ongoing conversation about personal information. What a customer considers “friendly” is this: conversant but respectful, cheerful but not intrusive, helpful but not overbearing. A friendly associate gives the customer his/her “space”, but is there to answer questions or provide directions. A friendly associate watches body language for clues that a customer is confused or annoyed, and acts in an appropriate manner. A friendly associate acknowledges the customer with a smile, but doesn’t interrupt that customers thinking process with an empty, rehearsed greeting that rings insincere.

Great merchandise (products). As a wise merchant once told me: “It all comes down to good food.” Obviously, all of our stores sell a multitude of items, many of them not in the food realm. But as we look at our perishables departments - those areas that actually draw customers to our stores—it’s critical not to lose sight of the importance of just how ”good” our products are. It’s easy to fall victim to a philosophy that honors price above all things but, truly, one seldom remembers what they paid for a peach that tastes like cardboard. Imagine an important family dinner—prepared with loving care—using ingredients purchased from your produce department. How disappointing it would be if the vegetables were not flavorful, the fruits not juicy and sweet. Always remember that the interaction with your customer is never final until they have prepared, served and enjoyed the products they bought from you. And while there might be good reasons why that asparagus was wilted or stringy, you won’t be there to explain. And, even if you were, would it make up for the disappointment of a ruined dinner? Always offer the best, most flavorful, and freshest products to your customers. Doing less than that risks losing their loyalty—and creates the potential for some really negative “word-of-mouth” publicity.

So, I think that Charles Redfield gave us all something to “dust off” and re-visit as we continually look at our stores and our departments to find ways to improve. The basics are just as important today as they were years and years ago. Never overlook them. Happy Selling!  

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