BIG TIMES, SMALL SOLUTIONS

These are big times. Retailers and manufacturers are combining to form very big companies. Big new relationships are springing up in every direction and big Web initiatives are being formed. Through it all, everyone is casting an eye across this big world as efforts to go global unfold.In this emerging world of all that's big, there are retailers who are content to remain small. But being small doesn't

These are big times. Retailers and manufacturers are combining to form very big companies. Big new relationships are springing up in every direction and big Web initiatives are being formed. Through it all, everyone is casting an eye across this big world as efforts to go global unfold.

In this emerging world of all that's big, there are retailers who are content to remain small. But being small doesn't mean big ideas and solutions can't emerge from the experience; ideas and solutions that are of interest to players big and small.

It was in keeping with that idea that SN editors prepared this week's front-page news feature about a single-store retailer in upstate New York, Village Market IGA. There's one more reason that store is featured in SN. Village is one of several winners of the "IGA International Retailer of the Year" award, so it stands as a symbol of many small-town supermarkets, the owners of which strive on a daily basis to make a difference.

Here's a summary of some of the challenges a retailer such as Village faces, and some of the solutions Village's owner has developed:

Vendor relationships: A single-store operator must depend entirely on the wholesaler and there's no point in trying to form relationships with manufacturers. Most retailers would agree with that premise, but not Village's owner, Jim Mirabito. To the contrary, he has a specialist on staff whose job it is to try to persuade vendors to partner with the store on promotional activities. The specialist starts locally, then works her way up vendors' management hierarchy until she finds a spirit of agreement. As an example, a vendor helped the retailer with an "IGA Kidsfest" promotion by providing coupons to give to adult shoppers who brought children to the store. See the front-page photo.

Delegation: Jim told SN there's little he enjoys more than working in the store and responding to customers' needs. That, in a way, defines what independents do and how they differ from chain operators. But even small operators need structure. A few years back, when the store was enlarged to its present size, Jim realized he had to delegate more to the store's department heads, so he did. After all, sales are running now some $5 million a year, requiring more than one hand on the throttle.

Web initiative: As might be expected, not every idea tried by a single-store retailer is capable of spinning straw into gold. But even ideas that don't pan out fully may be good ones. Perhaps they just were timed badly, or wanted for execution. Jim knew his store offered many regional labels, which might be of interest to the substantial population that now lives outside the region. So he offered such product on the Web. But it was not to be. Preparing items for shipment proved to be too labor intensive and the store's Web partner wasn't as flexible as Jim wanted. So the experiment ended. But it remains a good idea that some retailer will be well able to make into reality.

Take a look at this week's news feature to see more about how this operator has moved into food service, has developed expansion plans and more.