The beauty of focus

So there's this fruit stand in my neighborhood called Stanley's. Rather, it used to be a fruit stand, when it opened 39 years ago. Now it's a small fruit palace. A mecca for produce lovers. And isn't there a little produce lover in all of us?

Stanley's is focused on fruits and vegetables. They don't tell me that, I just know. It's all they sell. No need for ads, inside or outside the store. And Stanley's loves fruits and vegetables. The love is apparent in everything they do. Look at the way they arrange the asparagus. Look how carefully those oranges are stacked. It's small, clean, bright, cheap and busy. In fact, it's darn near perfect.

Stanley's success is indicative of a new (but actually old) trend called cross-channel shopping. You get your pasta at Jewel, your frozen foods at Trader Joe's, your meat at Costco, and your produce at Stanley's. Why do you do this, when so many stores carry all of these items? Because some places are more focused on certain things. As much as every store wants to be the sole provider of all your family's nourishment, they can't possibly do that well. They're not focused enough.

And how could they be? Stores have buyers. A typical grocery store will have a buyer (or three) for produce, for deli, for dairy, for snacks, for whatever other categories they divide their store into. Each of these buyers would love his section to be like Stanley's - his products glorified, given room to breathe, and properly attended to. But things get in the way, big-company things like operational efficiencies and SKU proliferation and staff allocation. Individual categories get trumped by "the whole store." Suddenly you have yesterday's apples getting bruised, 24 kinds of ketchup being carted in on palettes, and frozen foods jailed inside canyons of freezer doors.

So some stores focus, and others diversify. Then what happens? Word-of-mouth happens. People start talking about Trader Joe's, because the whole store is cool, and all, but really the frozen foods are the best thing there. And hey, we just got a Costco membership, did you know they have really good meat? And here, have a strawberry, they're from Stanley's. Yeah, it's amazing, have you been? People like to talk about their good retail experiences, and they like to classify things. If you tell people about TJ's, that's cool. But if you tell them about TJ's frozen foods, you are passing on even more valuable knowledge.

And so I find that a store with focus, with specialty and expertise, will get talked about more. People talk to me all the time about their great retail experiences, and often the more specialized, the better. After hearing about Stanley's for the umpteenth time, I finally decided to make the extra trip. And now I'm hooked.

I'm hooked because I feel that apples bought at Stanley's are special, nay, superior to those from the grocery store. They seem more loved, more expertly picked and more carefully delivered than those at Jewel. The store has focus, and it shows. I'm now a believer, spreading my own gospel about the little fruit stand that could.

In a world where everyone sells everything, I'd like to commend the stores that stay focused. We notice, we return, and we tell our friends.


Nate A said...

Very interesting insight. I'm not sure if they exist but I can definetly see grocery chains building stores which appear seprate , in a "main st." village kind of way so that you can shop at the deli then the fruit market even more so then the existing models. However I doubt they would have the same word of mouth feel that the real thing has.

sara said...

That's a great point, Nate. Some grocery stores have tried diversifying in this way - I know Basha's in Arizona has 5 or 6 different formats, and one is a small-footprint "corner market" - but the authenticity you describe is definitely what's missing.

Aunt Beep said...

Thanks for your great blog! I posted about it here:

cheekipoo said...

So right about Stanley's. I have loved it ever since moving to Chicago. Down home in Atlanta, we have a number of local co-ops and farmers' markets