Making Grocery Stores the Place to Be: Strategies from Whole Foods to Long Island Businesses About Local Marketing

While the new entry of a Stop and Shop might be bemoaned as a big chain disrupting local grocery stores, the expansion of Whole Foods rarely receives anything but positive reviews. So unsurprisingly, Whole Foods just opened its third Long Island store in Suffolk County a few months ago amidst positive press and favorable reactions from loyal customers.

How does Whole Foods Market ease itself into a new location so naturally? Well, the franchise has the ability to quickly put down roots in a new community using a few key strategies. But more importantly, these methods aren’t just for corporate chains. Small businesses on Long Island have the ability to co-opt these strategies to emphasize their local advantage.

1) Whole Foods: The Local Vendor Connection
Although Whole Foods locations contain their standard collection of imported goods, alongside typical brands appear local wares. Manhasset’s (Long Island, NY) branch sells local tomato sauce, pizza dough, and fresh fish from Long Island’s waters. The process of accepting local suppliers is also open and transparent, with contact information displayed online and in-store. Whole Foods is no Wal-Mart; the inclusion of local products helps integrate a large chain into a small community and helps justify the overall higher prices.

Example Of Local Marketing By Whole Foods
Photo Credit: Katy Raddatz

Long Island: Local Partnerships
Small businesses can twist this idea, including local products and services through partnerships. Partnerships can be beneficial to both parties, as long as it’s a good fit. For example: a coffee shop displaying and selling local artwork, a hotel offering discounts on local entertainment to visitors, or a pet-food store offering a start-up kit for new pets from a local adoption center.

2) Whole Foods: Creative Participation
Whole Foods has certainly moved in a new direction since it first moved into Long Island through the acquisition of Fresh Fields in Manhasset. The new location in Lake Grove has a café, cooking class facilities, and a calendar of in-store events. A farmers market takes place in the store’s café regularly where customers can meet local farmers and artisans. The store will even host two kick-off events for the community-wide “Long Island Food Challenge.” A Long Island Facebook page publicizes these events (such as “Grilling & Chillin At Whole Foods Market”) and connects enthusiasts. Whole Foods newest location makes community participation a priority by turning a grocery store into a social space.

Long Island: Community Events
A vibrant, social atmosphere could benefit many of Long Island’s service-oriented businesses. If a grocery store can sponsor fun, engaging community events, the possibility must be open for other types of businesses. For example, a music store could host guitar demonstrations by local band members, a hardware store could create a how-to workshop, or an ice cream store could host an online event to vote on a new flavor.

3) Whole Foods: Lending a Hand, Locally
Corporate giving has become standard among global companies but Whole Foods stands out for its extensive local charity work. Individual stores hold 5 Percent Days (or CommUnity Giving Days), donating 5% of that day’s sales to a nearby non-profit. Local nonprofit work not only improves the company’s image but also creates ties to local organizations.

Long Island: Proactive Giving
Many Long Island businesses will generously support educational or nonprofit programs if asked to lend a hand. But why shouldn’t a company actively search for a great way to donate its services? Proactive ways to support your community could include: a pizza place giving a local sports team 15% off after a winning game (or losing game…can’t hurt team morale) or a tutoring company offering free after-school help to public school children.

With all this obsessive attention on community development, Whole Foods can start to look more local than Main Stree’s own convenience store. But small businesses, which are actually local always have the opportunity to increase business through stronger community ties.

But keep in mind, local activities are first about the community and second about profits. If any new program does more the company than it does for the local area, it could look suspiciously self-serving. Instead, local enterprises should avoid quick schemes and focus on developing longstanding, authentic community relationships.

What other Long Island small businesses or organizations do you know that are doing local marketing well?

Feel free to comment below to the Long Island marketing blog, contact our Long Island marketing consultants at Upside Business Consultants with your comments, or join up on Twitter @upsidebusiness.

Reference Terms: Local Marketing on Long Island, Small Business Marketing Strategy, Whole Foods, Marketing Case Study, Local Marketing Strategy, Long Island Business News. Special thanks to Kyra S.