skip to nav skip to content
From wider smiles to more community awareness, small-town grocers are leveling the playing field with their national competitors.
Aiding the rebirth is Kansas State University's Rural Grocery Initiative. The project was started in 2006, and soon after, was inundated with phone calls seeking help.
As local grocers continued to vanish in the shadow of big-name retailers, consumers had less selection. The program set out to find a solution, aided with a more than $400,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture.
But to be successful, grocers had to change their way of thinking.
"We lay out these different ownership models, these various ownership options, and we work with these communities to try to figure out which of these models might work best in their particular community," said David Procter, KSU's Center of Engagement and Community Development Director.
Stores had to redefine strategies. Small grocers had to hone in their work to beat large chains in the areas they can control.
"One key thing that can set them apart from the larger grocery stores is this issue of customer service," Procter said. "Absolutely, customer service is key. We find it, really, one of the key factors that can separate it from the big box stores in larger cities, and actually offers a competitive advantage for these small-town stores."
Still, challenges abound.
Most national food distributors require a minimum $10,000 purchase to deliver goods to a store - an unrealistic option for some.
"For communities like Wichita or where I live in Manhattan, that's not an issue," Procter said. "But in a town of 600, 500, 700, it can be a daunting issue."
The research initiative has set out to see how to provide similar access to food in alternative ways. The project is looking at how local growers can reduce costs, as well as having small grocery stores partner with school districts or big businesses in the area that must bring in significant amounts of food.
But success still hinges on the details. Cleaner facilities will win over customers, as well as a friendly attitude. Small stores may have failed to prove their importance to the community in the past, or may not have been visible at all to the general public.
The initiative aims to reverse that trend by stressing the benefits of a local grocer.
"We believe that part of that lack of community support is because of a lack of awareness on the community's part," Procter said.
For the full interview, visit http://www.kfdi.com/podcasts/news/atissue/160996015.html.