STEW'S STRATEGY

Often cited as the poster child for innovative store layout and "retailtainment," retailer Stew Leonard's actually owes its success to a fairly simple concept: Build and nurture customer relationships. This focus carries over to the brand connections Stew's forges with shoppers.Despite ongoing expansions and the opening of several new stores, Stew's focus on customer relationships hasn't wavered.

Often cited as the poster child for innovative store layout and "retailtainment," retailer Stew Leonard's actually owes its success to a fairly simple concept: Build and nurture customer relationships. This focus carries over to the brand connections Stew's forges with shoppers.

Despite ongoing expansions and the opening of several new stores, Stew's focus on customer relationships hasn't wavered. Each department has its own store-within-a-store feel, staffed by experienced and welcoming personnel. Campy, handwritten pricing and specials signs replace the typical cacophony of vendor-produced point of sale. Unlike traditional grocers, Stew's typically offers just one brand per category, such as Tide detergent or Jif peanut butter, thereby favoring brand-leader products that shoppers want. Why so? It eliminates comparative quandaries for shoppers, simplifies the selection process and speeds the shopping experience. Still, manufacturers realize the brand that matters most at Stew's is Stew's own, which creates certain promotional challenges for name brands.

To some, Stew's famous one-way store gauntlet might leave customers with feelings of an arranged marriage or predetermined destiny. But the retailer never fails to make the trip interesting for customers of all ages -- whether it's Dole's singing-and-dancing vegetables, an outdoor farm or a changing array of value offerings, such as $150 cashmere sweaters for $49. And at checkout, you'll never hear a cashier ask, "Do you have a club card?"