Brand is experience writ large.
Why do you prefer shopping at one grocery store vs. another? It could be demonstrably fresher produce or a variety of canned beans you can only find there – or any of a number of other products. For me, it’s a particular kind of applesauce. Plus what might be called atmosphere, another component of the brand experience that’s as critical to grocery store presentation as quality, selection, price, etc.
My son and his family live about three hours away, and there are three non-traditional food retailers in the area, Earth Fare, Whole Foods and a small shop that seems like a throwback to the original “natural foods” stores with narrow aisles crammed with product – some unavailable in the other stores. If more than a dozen people were in that store at any one time, it would feel crowded. We go there for convenience (it’s within walking distance) and to purchase local produce and dairy products unavailable at the chain stores. Otherwise, they’re a bit pricey.
Their Whole Foods features the spaciousness and vast selection common to their newer layouts. They have a huge bakery department and, of course, their famous food bar where you purchase lunch by the pound. I feel a bit lost in that huge store – although some shoppers will find it energizing.
The Earth Fare, by contrast is “just right” for me, as Goldilocks might say after she sampled the baby bear’s porridge. It has good scale. The store is small enough (and lit) to feel intimate, has everything I want, including well-presented produce and a food bar that’s at least the equal of Whole Foods’ – yummy baked goods and great coffee. Since the Whole Foods opened their store about two miles away, Earth Fare’s business doesn’t seem to have suffered (at least as measured through my eyeballs). All told, it's a satisfying experience for this shopper.
Back home, we have a new Trader Joe’s, which arrived amid a great flurry of advanced publicity about a half mile from our Whole Foods. Shoppers flocked eagerly to the place (tucked into 2/3 of an old Border’s store), lured by a reputation for inexpensive wines, other Trader Joe’s branded fare and plenty of easy parking. The store is about the size of the Earth Fare in my son’s city and is always packed. There’s buzz and hustle about the place – akin to an outdoor market with a roof on it but not as laid back. Some people feed off the energy there, but I do not. I’m in and out and relieved to be so.
I prefer my well-established Whole Foods, which is smaller and more intimate than their new stores. Their coffee is easier to purchase than in any larger Whole Foods I’ve experienced, and I’m just used to the place, frankly. I feel comfortable there, partly because I like the people, many of whom know me by sight, and partly because it serves most of our needs very well - although with two major display resets in as many months, I am feeling a bit less comfy, since I have to hunt for stuff now in longer narrow and confusing aisles, which is not a game I like to play. I know the idea is to cram more SKUs in a given space (to offer a more competitive selection) but there seems little logic in their layout -- at least from one shopper's point of view. But I'll chin up, keep searching, and stick with them, because most of the experience is good.
Soon, a Publix will be joining the circle of grocery choices within a half mile of “my” Whole Foods. Publix is new to town and will have parking underneath and the store above, and the lot size suggests it will be smaller than their big Florida stores. What will that experience be like? Stay tuned.
Takeaway: Experience sells – coffee shop, grocery store, no matter what your business. Make it part of your brand presentation.