Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 29, 2012
CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — At Zagara’s Marketplace, shoppers who can’t find something they need can request it at the customer service desk. Store President John Zagara will hunt it down and special-order it — even if the person who asked for it ends up being the only customer who wants it. “That customer is going to come in and buy that tea she wanted and is going to buy other items when she’s here,” he said.
That pledge to “exceed our customers’ expectations” has helped Zagara’s Marketplace outlast other family-run grocers since it was founded in 1936.
He said his father always told him, “If you listen to your customers, they’ll help you run your business and make your business better.”
But a new competitor coming next summer — a 180,000-square-foot Walmart Supercenter that will be open 24/7 — has prompted Zagara to sharpen his focus on winning over his customers.
“Walmart will have an effect on us,” he said. “The question is how much of an effect and what happens after six months? How well prepared are we to handle our customer when they tire of that big-box experience? How can we thrive, not just survive?”
Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher at the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis and author of “Big Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America’s Independent Businesses,” said many longstanding grocery stores have fallen after a Walmart Supercenter comes to town.
“Even very popular grocery stores sometimes close because the local market just isn’t big enough to support that much grocery capacity and Walmart can afford to lose money at a new store indefinitely — basically outlasting the independent,” she said.
Among the independent grocers who have managed to survive in Walmart’s shadow, “the keys seem to be communicating your value to your customers, including the substantial benefits to your local economy and community of choosing a locally owned business instead of a chain,” she said.
“It’s also important to remind customers that the store won’t be there if they are not there to support it.
“Sometimes people take a local business for granted. They assume they can start doing a lot of their shopping at Walmart and still count on the local grocer for specialty items, extra services and special orders. But if you want those choices to be available, then you need to make sure you are supporting that business week in and week out.”
Deanna Bremer Fisher, executive director of FutureHeights, which promotes civic engagement in Cleveland Heights and University Heights, said: “Zagara’s is a well-known and well-regarded business with a lot of loyal customers in the Heights, they contribute to local causes, and I think people appreciate that. I’m hopeful that our residents will recognize that difference and continue to support them.”