ATLANTA -- LOCATION used to be considered a crucial factor in building a successful supermarket.
Today, if Harry's Farmers Market here is any indication, uniqueness and excitement have become perhaps more important factors.
That was the message from Fred Allvine, professor of marketing at Georgia Institute of Technology, who cited Harry's as a leader in marketing during a presentation to a group of produce retailers and suppliers who toured Harry's and several other supermarkets here earlier this month.
The tour was sponsored by the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del.
Allvine said he has conducted studies of Harry's and found that customers go out of their way to shop there, bypassing several other supermarkets that are closer to where they live. "It's because it's an experience you just don't get in other places," he said.
Harry's first store opened in 1988 in Roswell, Ga. At that time, a group of investors asked Allvine if they should invest in the store, which is in a relatively small community about 20 miles north of Atlanta. He said he realizes now that he gave them the wrong advice.
"In marketing there have long been three keys to success: location, location and location. Harry's was going to be off the major drag and couldn't possibly succeed. Now it is phenomenally successful."
The company now operates five stores, with combined annual sales of more than $116 million.
"Harry's is successful because it is a very unusual operation," he said. "Today it's excitement and uniqueness that are important."
He said successful retailers, like Harry's, have recognized that produce is the "hot spot" in supermarkets and is often the reason consumers choose a store.
"Very successful grocery chains have first class produce operations," Allvine said. "Produce is oftentimes the tail that wags the dog."
Harry's flagship store is 100,000 square feet, 30,000 of which is devoted to produce. The department is laid out like a maze. Making their way through the store, shoppers pass movable carts with massive displays -- some as tall as six feet.
The department carries over 1,200 varieties of produce throughout the year, and an average of 600 items on any given day.
It's not a glamorous department with expensive refrigerated cases. It's like a farmers market, with employees shoveling ice on top of displays to keep the produce cold.
"The produce is not necessarily better or cheaper than at other stores,"Allvine said. "But it's a concept you don't see in other markets," he said. "It's so unusual that people go out of their way to go to Harry's."
He said that the uniqueness of Harry's creates a perception of value in the minds of consumers, which is just as important as quality products and low prices.
"You can't forget about value in today's economy," said Allvine. "The standard of living for most Americans has not increased in the last 10 to 15 years. So you have a population that has a desire to spend more but can't and therefore is looking for value. To be successful in this job of produce marketing you have to have sizzle, a concept and customer orientation."
According to Allvine, produce has three basic qualities that give it inherent value: it's relatively inexpensive, it's healthful and it can help create pleasurable experiences in consumers' lives. The concepts are simple, he said, "yet most people don't recognize them."