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Selling in Tough Times: A Retailer's Perspective

We got to talking shop with Brenda Boynton after a seminar at Expo East. She oversees the produce department at Spice of Life, her brother’s small natural foods store in Skowhegan, Maine. For those of you familiar with the state, you know that Skowhegan is on the rural side. The nearest college town is Waterville, home to Colby College, about 40 miles away.

The town has a Hannaford supermarket nearby, but until the economy soured, the little Spice of Life store was pulling its own. Now that things have turned, the retailer is trying to develop strategies to keep its core consumers and bring back the occasional wellness buyers. I’m not going to disclose what they’re planning, but suffice to say the relationship she and her brother Bryce have with their customers will get them through this recession, or whatever the pundits are calling this Wall Street roller coaster ride the entire nation is on.

Here is what Brenda is seeing in her neck of the woods, though:

— More bulk buying. The store has gravity bins and a large selection of loose spices and herbs. Customers can also order “bulk” by placing direct orders for cases through the retailer.

— Many customers are growing their own produce this year, so the store compensates by acting as a source of information and advice.

— Pressing vendors for better deals. This is easier than it sounds. While Spice of Life can’t beat larger, more mainstream comptitors on items, the price differentials are within customers’ comfort zones.

— Thinking ahead and stocking items that wil be in demand for the holidays and winter months.

Sure, Spice of Life is a small retailer in a rural area. But the challenges are the same for all retailers, regardless of location or size. What’s your strategy?