Monday, July 14, 2008

Independent Grocer Memo: Wolfe's Market; A Case Study On Why Independent Grocers Continue to Survive and Even Thrive in the U.S. Despite Tough Odds

As we write often about independent grocers in the United States, this food and grocery retailing segment continues to survive and even thrive in America against the giant supermarket chains like Kroger Co., Safeway Stores, Inc., SuperValue, Inc. (and the mega-Wal-Mart) and the scores of huge regional chains, by finding a niche--be it upscale specialty foods or price-impact discount retailing or another niche--and being the best at it in their respective cities and towns.

One such independent grocer is 91 year-old Wolfe's Market on West Foothill Boulevard in the city of Claremont, in Southern California. Wolfe's Market is described by its owner, Tom Wolfe, as "a specialty food store with a high-end deli."

The store has its own "grill chef," Jesus Garcia, who Tom Wolfe says is constantly developing new items for the menu, ranging from different versions of gourmet hamburgers and sandwiches, to fish tacos and chicken nachos. All of these items are premium quality, Wolfe says.

Wolfe's Market also carries an extensive selection of specialty, ethnic, natural and gourmet food and grocery items. The independent grocer also sources top quality fresh produce items and prices them competitively. As he says: "Our peaches taste like a real peach should taste."

The store also offers home delivery service, gift baskets and prime meats ground daily at the market. The home delivery is part of the super customer service element Wolf says gives his market another point of differentiation over his chain competitors.

And competitors Wolfe's Market has. There are four grocery stores within a mile of each other on West Foothill Boulevard in Claremont: Stater Bros., Sprouts Farmers Market, Trader Joe's and Wolfe's Market, according to an interview article with the owner of Wolfe's Market, in today's Inland Valley Bulletin, a daily newspaper in the Claremont region. The Trader Joe's and Sprouts Farmers Market branches opened in just the last year.

In the piece, the independent grocer says having three such competitors, each only a mile from his store, combined with the current poor economy in the region, is posing challenges to the 91 year-old specialty supermarket.

However, the independent supermarket is doing well by focusing on its specialty and quality prepared foods niche, while keeping its superior customer service element running strong. While some other parts of his store are suffering do to the new competition and poor economy, Wolfe says the prepared foods grill is thriving, for example.

Read the article, "Market finds its own niche," in today's Inland Valley Bulletin here. Wolfe's Market provides yet another case study of an American independent grocer who is remaining a success, despite having tough times, by mining its niche and offering shoppers things the bigger chain competitors aren't.

It's a tough road, especially for an independent specialty supermarket in the current poor U.S. economy. However, despite this challenge, along with the ongoing challenge from the big chains, independent grocers, like Wolfe's Market and the thousands of others like it in the U.S., actually are a growing food and grocery retailing segment in America, rather than a declining segment, which is the case in places like the United Kingdom and other parts of Western Europe.

>Read a few testimonials from Wolfe's Market customers here.
>Read about what makes Wolfe's Market's meat and deli departments "so special" here.

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