Flexibility: The Independent's Edge


The grocery landscape is always evolving. Business owners, managers, and CEOs – decision-makers from the smallest independent retailer to the largest corporate chain supermarkets – must continually adapt their strategies to remain viable in an increasingly competitive industry. What this looks like, however, varies greatly, and the solution to challenges presented by events like the COVID-19 Pandemic won’t be the same for Whole Foods or Target as for many independent natural food retailers.

However, there’s one thing the independent business has that their corporate counterparts can’t match – flexibility.

Quick On the Draw

While the industry giants have the resources to weather many storms, they lack organizational flexibility to change and roll out new strategies when the moment demands it. In the case of independent retailers, less organizational rigidity means being quicker on the draw when customer preferences and circumstances change.

For many INFRA Members and independent retailers, the decision-makers are right there on the floor. They’re not in an office hundreds of miles away. They’re not bound by red tape and nationwide policies. When new circumstances arise, independents can adapt their strategy on a dime and ride the wave – an advantage the big guys simply can’t keep up with.

Kevin Cotter, owner of INFRA Member New Earth Market in Yuba City and Chico, CA put it best in the Summer 2022 edition of The Real Deal:

“If our customers want us to bring in something, we can do it. We can do it tomorrow!... Come up with a plan, and if the plan doesn’t work, it’s okay to change the plan. Because we make the plan! We can alter it at any point in time.” Click here to read the full article.

Pressure Rewards the Creative

In the first episode of INFRA’s podcast, “The Buyer’s Desk,” Thomas Barstow, Natural Food Director at Guido’s Fresh Marketplace in Pittsfield, MA, spoke of the pandemic as an agent of forced innovation. The normal means of supply were unavailable. Grocery shelves were sparse. Toilet paper was nowhere to be found. Except at Guido’s!

By working with local distributors, Guido’s secured toilet paper supply that was originally meant for restaurants in the area. No indoor seating meant no use for toilet paper at restaurants, which meant an avenue of supply that the national chain locations in the area couldn’t take advantage of.

Whether it be a question of scale or speed, there are many options available to independent retailers that their big box competitors simply can’t exploit. In many cases, it’s both. Guido’s got creative and found a solution to a problem that had become ubiquitous across the nation.

The Independent’s Edge

Creativity and the flexibility to ideate and swiftly implement outside-the-box solutions is the secret weapon in the independent business’s toolkit. While economic pressures absolutely create uncertainty for small businesses, there are many ways those pressures can be mitigated that are uniquely available to them.

Be bold and creative. Get your team in the room and collaborate on solutions. Execute on the creativity. Independent retailers are better positioned than anyone to jump on trends and consumer preferences as they happen.

Further Reading & Sources:

Independent grocers prove their resiliency in 2022; seek innovation in 2023

One of Small Business’s Biggest Advantages – Flexibility

Flexibility, the Secret Weapon for Small Business Success

Small Businesses Get Creative to Survive During the Pandemic

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