business news in context, analysis with attitude

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Hi, Kevin Coupe here. This is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

Back before Thanksgiving, I was giving a speech and during the Q&A session afterwards, I was asked a question that I'd never been asked before:

If you were going to open a food store, based on everything you know, what kind of store would you open?

Good question. Other than the fact that I reject one premise of the question - that I know very much - the inquiry actually made me think for a minute.

The short answer betrayed my prejudices, I think. I'd probably go small rather than big. I'd want to curate the item count to keep it manageable. I'd focus on fresh foods and specialty items as much as possible. And I'd constantly be thinking about differentiation, to make sure that the store I was operating wasn't just a "me, too" option.

I've had a chance to think about that answer since I gave it. In some ways, it was way too simplistic - it did not even factor in the market in which I'd be operating, the customer base that I'd be targeting, and the competition with which I'd be going to the mattresses.

I also didn't even begin to address the digital component, because any store I'd operate would have to have one … I just think you cannot be in the retail business these days without having some sort of e-commerce capability. To do so, I think, is to try to engage in a fight with one hand tied behind your back. I didn't talk about the importance of a real customer loyalty program, like the one Dorothy Lane Markets has had for years, eliminating the need fort mass marketing of any kind.

That said, the store I did describe is sort of the store in which I'd like to shop. I'm not sure if it is age or attitude or some combination thereof, but I increasingly find myself preferring small stores to big stores, and differentiated, fresh-food driven stores to those that don't do anything to create a unique brand image.

Ultimately I want to shop in a store that focuses on sustainable excellence and persistent innovation. And so, that's the kind of store I'd like to run, if I actually wanted to run a store.

Speaking of sustainable excellence, let me tell you a story. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I was at a family get-together and one of my sisters, who lives in Pennsylvania, was raving about the Wegmans mobile app. It's changed her life, she said, making it possible for everyone in the family to add to the weekly shopping list and then, because pictures go next to products, making it possible for anyone in the family to do the shopping. And, she said, shifting to Wegmans' private label in a variety of categories has saved her a lot of money. She wasn't just a Wegmans shopper….she was a Wegmans evangelist.

And then something interesting happened. A different sister's boyfriend, an Australian fellow who has been living in the states for years, was listening to the conversation. And he told me that he'd been in a Wegmans store in 1995 - and to this day, he said, it is the best supermarket that he'd ever been in. (He doesn't live near one anymore, or he'd be a loyal Wegmans shopper as well.)

Think about how the industry has changed since 1995, and how extraordinary and ahead of the wave that Wegmans must have been to be described in that way.

Talk about a focus on sustainable excellence and persistent innovation.

And just for a minute, consider whether the stores you run or the stores you patronize meet those criteria, within whatever format or constraints they may happen to have.

At the risk of seeming to yet again hype my new book, "Retail Rules!" (available now on Amazon and from the publisher here), I am reminded of the folks at Stumptown Coffee in Portland, Oregon, about whom I wrote in Rule 45 … teaching us that "it's not worth doing if we can't do it right."

A rule to live by.

That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

KC's View: