business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Hard as it may be to believe, drama queens and kings are exactly what retailers need to stand out from the competition.

That was the suggestion made by one wholesaler executive during a panel discussion I moderated at IGA Worldwide, the Alliance’s annual conference that last week helped celebrate IGA’s 90th anniversary.

And obviously some explanation is necessary.

IGA stores, like so many others, face a challenging future. The IGA reputation of "Hometown Proud" through community service and local ownership is a fine foundation for independent operator success in the future, much as it has been in the past. But even in the midst of celebrating 90 years the conference in Las Vegas grappled with a serious issue - how to survive the next 90 days or 90 months, much less the next 90 years, especially given today’s pitched competition against traditional competitors, fast multiplying limited assortment discount stores and the coming battle again e-commerce.

Like many retail groups in similar circumstances the IGA family talked during the conference about improved operations, greater efficiency and better in-store conditions. But the bulk of the discussion was about creating in-store excitement and customer engagement, which led to the discussion to drama queens or more accurately, a suggestion that stores start recruiting workers with some experience in theatrical arts.

The reasoning was both simple and dead on. Performers are taught how to have presence and connect with their audience, the exact skills so many are saying employees need have to help stores differentiate in the eyes of their shoppers. It’s a simple suggestion, but one so rich with possibilities it has to make you wonder if theater training should become regular for all staffers.

We all know the power of an engaging employee in any retail experience. Their ability to convey enthusiasm and personality makes any ordinary shopping trip that much better. We talk about the great assistance we got in a clothing store; the humorous waiter in a restaurant or even the friendly cashier that everyone lines up to see.

So no, it isn’t about Meryl Streep working the deli. (Though, in view of our ongoing infatuation with the movies, it is worth noting that Streep played the owner of of upscale grocery store in It's Complicated.) It is about building store personality through our people, one at a time. It’s about finding people who like to interact with other people to give our store that extra edge.

Incredibly there was a clear demonstration of this principle at the co-located National Grocers Association (NGA) show. One of the winners of NGA Creative Choice awards was Gordy’s Markets in Wisconsin for a campaign centered on the meat department. But as Mall Selvig, who represented Gordy’s on stage, demonstrated, Gordy’s marketing is driven by something else: An employee (Matt himself) who is willing to do most anything as the face of the company.

Matt calls himself the “Gordy’s Guru.” For a meat event, he rode around the store dressed as a cowboy and straddling a shopping cart. For a cheese promotion Gordy’s commercials featured Matt singing Meghan Trainor’s hit as, “It’s all about the cheese.”

Matt believes he’s like Flo for Progressive Insurance, giving his store a personality shoppers can remember ... one giggle at a time. If they laugh with him it’s great; if they laugh at him, it still works. Either way, they remember him and that’s what makes a staffer and a store a little more distinct.

Time to raise the curtain.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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