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Sorensen: Independent Retailers Are Fast, Focused and Flexible


by Cindy Sorensen/founder and CEO, The Grocery Group

I loved the early days of my grocery industry career. I had the responsibility for selling the full portfolio of Nestle Foods’ products to 65 independent grocery stores in the Minneapolis/St. Paul and western Wisconsin market. These retailers taught me so much about the business. Thankfully, I have had the opportunity to cross paths with some of them at industry trade shows and am able to share with them how much their patience teaching me about the industry has meant in the development of my career. Not only did they teach me about the industry, but I learned many lessons from them which I wrote about in the February 2019 Shelby Report.

One of the things I liked most about working with independents throughout my career was their ability to be “fast, focused and flexible.” Without the red tape of many levels of management and required approvals, independent retailers have always been able to react quickly to changes in consumers, shopping trends and competition. Often, by the time a larger, multi-store chain retailer has gone through the necessary levels of approval to address a consumer preference, the shopper has moved on to something else. I’m not criticizing the need for these approvals, but they do tend to leave many chains one step behind the consumer.

The ability to be fast to market with a concept also allows for an independent retailer to test concepts well in advance of their competition and to do so without the timeline or financial and human resource investment a multi-store chain would need to implement a concept. I have often witnessed the implementation of a great idea at a chain retailer, but due to the inability to be fast to market with implementation, the trend passed the retailer before it could be fully implemented. On many occasions, the retailer concluded it was an unsuccessful test, when it was really a lack of timeliness to beat the competition to market with a concept. The retailer looked like a follower and not a leader in the implementation of a program.

Because independent retailer decision-makers are usually in their stores every day, they are very close to the needs of their shoppers. This also contributes to not only being fast to implement a program, but they can also be focused on developing a program or concept which precisely targets their shoppers’ needs.

And finally, they have the flexibility to assess the program and tweak as necessary with little red tape to slow down necessary improvements.

Fast, focused and flexible is a winning combination for independents if they use it to their advantage to stay one step of consumers and the changing competitive landscape.

The National Grocers Association 2020 show is this month (February), and I’m sure we will hear much more on staying relevant in this competitive retail environment from a variety of speakers and workshops. I look forward to seeing you there!


Cindy Sorensen is the founder and CEO of The Grocery Group, which focuses on developing leadership in the grocery industry. The Grocery Group’s expertise is in developing innovation in merchandising, category management, distribution and promotion strategy, as well as digital and website development. The Group also is working with the industry and colleges and universities to attract, recruit and retain a talented workforce in a competitive employment market. Working with manufacturers and food startups to develop products to fulfill changing consumer demands also is of special interest to The Grocery Group. Reach Sorensen at [email protected].

Featured Photos

Featured Photo PLMA Annual Private Label Trade Show
Donald E. Stephens Convention Center
Chicago, Illinois
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