by Ronald K. Fong/president and CEO, California Grocers Association
CGA recently had its annual convention, bringing together hundreds of member retailers and suppliers to do business and listen to dynamic presenters who spoke about the latest in forward thought and industry trends. These speakers always bring a different perspective on a variety of topics, but this year was notable as a number of them spoke about the power of communication.
We often give little thought to how we communicate, but as grocers we really ought to consider ways to improve the way we interact with both customers and colleagues. After all, our industry is one that relies on communication more than most. In a time where many businesses seem to be looking at ways to take people out of the equation, many in our industry are doing the opposite—they look for ways to improve the customer experience through the knowledge and passion of our employees. And key to all that? Communication.
In business, as in life, it’s not enough to simply have knowledge. What sets people apart is not what they say, but how they say it. Whether working on a piece of legislation in the halls of the state capitol or interacting with a customer in a store, the most successful among us draw others in with the words they choose and how they convey them, much like a storyteller draws an audience in with what seems like a linguistic ebb and flow.
We draw people in by knowing when to speak softly and when to speak not-so-softly. We draw people in by knowing when to speak fast and when to speak slow. When you can captivate your audience of one or 100 with a communication that inspires and conveys a passion for a product or a piece of legislation, people will always want to hear what you have to say. This is so powerful in a world where we are constantly bombarded with messages from all sorts of traditional media and social media and competitors in the marketplace of not only goods, but ideas.
At a time when our industry is going through a transformation, looking at ways to compete beyond brick-and-mortar into the world of online sales, it is good to remember that our greatest asset is the power of our people. The grocery store is a place where people go not just to shop, but to experience shopping. And our industry provides the best of experiences with person-to-person interactions driven by communication that conveys a passion that is palatable to our customers that keeps them coming back. Some of our competitors may have an app that makes it easy, but those apps can’t tell the stories behind the things they sell like we do in the walls of our stores.
Fong became president and CEO of CGA in March 2008. A native Californian and a lawyer, he joined CGA after 12 years with the California Credit Union League (CCUL). At CGA, Fong serves as the association’s chief legislative and political advocate and oversees government relations, member services, convention and communication programs. He also is president of the California Grocers Association Educational Foundation (CGAEF). His grandfather started Carmichael Supermarket, the first grocery market in Carmichael, California, in 1941, and Fong worked in the grocery business as he grew up.