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Interesting piece in the Chicago Tribune about how and why a number of Asian grocery stores in the city’s suburbs are attracting shoppers from as far as hundreds of miles away.

“Every weekend, Asian immigrants ... wake up early to drive from Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa — even Nebraska — to spend hundreds of dollars in the large, flourishing Asian grocery stores in Naperville, Arlington Heights and Niles,” the Tribune writes. “These super shoppers push two carts at once in stores some locals don't even know exist. And they have been in full force recently, stocking up on mooncakes, Moutai liquor and other delicacies for Lunar New Year celebrations that began earlier this month.”

According to the story, “Twenty years ago, Asian shoppers visiting from other states headed straight to Chinatown, Koreatown, Argyle Street and other ethnic Chicago neighborhoods for the authentic tofu salads, frozen dumplings and bok choy they craved.

“Since then, the Asian population has grown significantly in Chicago's suburbs. In Naperville, for example, the number of Asian residents has grown an estimated 50 percent during the last decade — to almost 19,000 — according to demographer Rob Paral, citing U.S. Census Bureau figures.” This growth has led to the emergence of Asian supermarkets that are vast in their selections, and that serve as a magnet for Asian shoppers interested in foods from their home countries.

At the same time, retailers are working to make sure they nurture their customers and don’t lose their advantage.

“At Mitsuwa Marketplace, manager Masato Takai has negotiated deals with area hotels so guests receive a discounted room rate if they show their grocery receipt,” the reports. “Takai tries to direct new out-of-town shoppers to the store's special features, like its selection of 100 kinds of sake.

“Paige Yun, a customer service representative at the Super H Mart in Naperville, helps to organize calendar giveaways, gift promotions and Asian Food Fairs to make long-distance drives worthwhile.”
KC's View:
It should not be a surprise that a differentiated approach to marketing - a targeted, unique selection with a kind of primal appeal to shoppers - can get people to go out of their way to shop at a specific store.

What is always more of a surprise to me is that more stores - especially food stores - don’t try to heighten and exploit differential advantages in terms of product and services, as opposed to selling the same stuff as everyone else and just fighting over price.

BTW...the New York Times this morning has a story about how retailers ranging from Walmart to Target, Bloomingdale’s to Kohl’s, are all looking for form relationships with celebrities that allow them to create proprietary brands - also known as private labels - that they think can give them a differential advantage in the marketplace.

Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It usually is hard. But it almost always is worth doing.