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Top Priority-Everything Still Starts With The Customer

Priorities can be fickle.

We’ve learned the past few months it doesn’t take long for something on top of one’s list of priorities to be bumped down by more urgent matters.

Dealing with the potential for such wavering has been a constant reality for independent retailers long before this heinous virus came along to stir up everything. These retailers generally have to swim against the current of a society constantly realigning their priorities in favor of easier and cheaper ways to equip their lives.

Overcoming such tendencies has defined successful specialty retailing for generations. These stores have earned their keep by nurturing and demonstrating the virtues of taking a bit more time to consider and savor all the variables affecting a purchase.

There is some irony that success in the post-quarantine marketplace is being defined, at least for now, by the ability of a physical store to minimize its physical contact with shoppers.

To get them in and out the door or from the curb to the road as quickly, efficiently and safely as possible.

Such adaptation addresses near-term human priorities while satisfying a store operator’s near-term priority to rebuild revenue and cash flow.

But it might not be enough in the long run if such necessary operational precautions stifle the interactive dynamics required of an independent business selling product that, in many cases, may be easier and cheaper to purchase elsewhere.

Retailers might benefit by the liberated initial wave of people eager to breathe the air of in-person shopping in the more intimate, contained environment of a community boutique. It will take more effort by storeowners for the novelty of such pent-up behavior to become the norm again.

Practices must be adapted and modified for today’s post-virus sensibilities. But such new operational priorities can’t come at the expense of any of the nuanced approaches to merchandising and salesmanship that have always marked this channel’s distinction and staved off its extinction.

You can’t just open the doors and expect everyone to show up. The quarantine and locked stores forced even more shoppers to explore alternates — some of them easier and cheaper — to buy virtually any product.

The annual GOURMET INSIDER® All-Stars featured in this special edition and retailers on the recent Gourmet Insider Town Hall webinar show us that the very best in this complicated, ever-challenged business never take their eyes off their customers and their shifting priorities.

There are many new protocols, and they can be a burden, to follow just to unlock the doors again. And social media, virtual merchandising and e-commerce options have never been more essential for independents. Consider them to be the latest required keys to unlock this channel’s deepest advantage: Connecting directly with consumers to build their trust.

Near-term necessity may encourage a more transactional approach to driving traffic and sales volume. But with retailers in all classes compelled to push contact-less shopping, independent retailing success ultimately demands direct contact, measured not so much by the distance between bodies, but by the close engagement between store and customer.

Let everyone in your community know you’re open…and that they remain your top priority.

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