Putting Your Best Foot Forward

The job of promoting your co-op encompasses everyone involved in the business. Employees, board members and even member/shoppers participate in marketing the co-op. This group is your informal marketing team. By formalizing this base, a successful, low cost marketing campaign can be built. Your reasons for formalizing this team may be multi-faceted - new location, remodeled store, or slow sales and stagnant membership. Whatever the situation, your primary goal is to increase your member/shopper base and sales. By making Your marketing team more aware of the role they play in promoting the co-op, they will pay more attention to it. The increased attention will result in an improvement in the basic marketing techniques used in your co-op.

How does this group form your marketing team? In order to realize everyone's role, you need to consider how every aspect of co-op operations plays a part in promoting the business. The location, design, product mix, merchandising and customer services all send a message to the public, determining whether they shop at the co-op, how much they buy and how often they return. As a result, each board member and employee, through the job they perform and policy decisions they make, participates in promoting the co-op. Before planning any large scale advertising campaigns, you must first organize this team.

Your member/shoppers will participate in promoting the co-op through word of mouth. This is one of the most successful methods for building sales. The key to developing this word of mouth promotion lies with the rest of your team.

To insure member/customer satisfaction and encourage both repeat sales and new business, the co-op needs to work as a team to create a shopping environment everyone enjoys. By implementing quality customer services and caring about the physical appearance of the store, you can create customer loyalty.

The basic services your member/shoppers look for when choosing a regular grocery store include:

  • Convenient location and parking
  • Products they want to buy
  • Consistent merchandising techniques
  • Pricing which is complete and easy to understand
  • Quality products
  • A courteous, service-oriented staff

Some additional services which increase customer satisfaction include:

  • A regular newsletter
  • Sales on popular products
  • Educational information
  • Product tastings and demonstrations
  • Special order privileges
  • Case discounts
  • A liberal return policy
  • Other member benefits

Taking care of the physical appearance of the store is another service you provide your customers. This is accomplished by:

  • Creating a design and product layout that is pleasant and makes shopping easy Keeping the store very clean and free of clutter
  • Creating attractive displays to enhance the quality and appeal of the co-op's products
  • Using sanitary, attractive equipment
  • Keeping products faced
  • Changing special displays frequently to keep the store looking fresh and interesting
  • Clearly labeling products, specials, departments, the store front, etc.

Your co-op's team can be trained to improve the provision of these services. Board members can learn methods for planning and policy making which will improve customer services. They can learn how to evaluate the current operation through customer surveys and market studies which can be used in planning and help them make informed decisions. Employees can be trained in customer service and merchandising techniques. The training will provide Job skills which can add new interest to job responsibillUes and be the basis for reorganizing store duties in order to improve customer services.

Once this base is organized, we can implement more In-store promotional techniques, the next step of our low cost promotional campaign.

Some in-store promotional techniques were listed above as additional services we can provide our customers. Providing educational information, product tastings and demonstrations are some of the easiest promotional techniques to implement. Suppliers and distributors often will supply samples and information at no cost.

Product demonstrations are the best way to introduce new items and educate your customers. In addition, they can create a festive atmosphere and make shopping more enjoyable. Prepare a schedule for sampling products, and enlist the buyers and membership coordinators to fill it in. The best time to hold samplings is when the store is at its busiest. The demonstrations can be tied into special sales, seasonal events, the introduction of new products, or for no special reason at all. (For more on planning successful food demos, see the article by Sheila Phillips in the previous issue of CooperatIve Grocer, #12-13, Aug.-Nov. 1987.)

Recipes and nutritional information are easy to come by some times too easy. Our distributors send heaps of information, and we end up heaping it onto the customer, placing messy piles of flyers in stacks by the checkout or on the shelves, cluttering up the store. Organize your information. Keep it neatly stocked in a literature rack: use it to stuff bags or add interest to a special display. Out of the free information they receive, some stores create info packages about sports nutrition, herbs, especially for women, etc.

Other special services which can be easy to implement include special order services and offering case discounts. A deposit can be taken on special orders or case orders to insure that the member/shopper returns for the item. These services are what make a small, independently owned grocery a better place to shop. Another Important service to offer is a liberal return policy. By offering to exchange or refund a product without question, you will build customer trust.

Some specially priced popular products can be bought in quantity and displayed In a case stack or end-aisle to enhance sales. One end-aisle or area of the store can be designated for seasonal and educational displays. This area can be used to promote back-to-school menus or holiday gift ideas. A large sign can Identily the display and offer sale prices or tidbits of information, such as the A-B-Cs of nutrition or the history of bagels. A popular product on sale can be used to anchor the display, and other lesser known items can be tied Into it. For example, macrobiotic products can be promoted along with a sale on rice.

Organize your co-op's operations to offer a strong base of services and you will have Implemented the most important element of your promotional campaign. By gaining customer loyalty through these services, you will increase your member/customer base and sales. Your satisfied customers will then help you increase your sales by spreading the good news. From this base we can add more in-store promotional techniques and Institute a public campaign.

In the next article, we will take a look at how to get the most out of other in-store promotional tools such as the newsletter and member benefits. We will also investigate ways to increase public recognition without paying a lot for advertising.

See other articles from this issue: #014 December - January - 1988