Lessons from Grocery Store Marketing

grocery storeForget my MBA and thirty years of small business development experience. Everything I know I learned by watching my father support our family with a corner grocery store.  Now let's put things in perspective: Our store was literally in the corner of Sirkin and Frishman streets in Tel Aviv. My father's territory spanned one block in every direction. Yes, one block. Again, a "block" in old Tel Aviv meant about a 30-45 seconds walk in each direction and apartment buildings averaging 4 floors (no elevators in those days). So, we seemed to have had a "captive" audience of maybe 4-6 buildings and averaging 10 apartments per building. Yes, you can make a living from such a "territory" but you can also lose your business quickly. Why? Because in those days, the competition was lurking...a block away in each direction. When we say, "you're not happy with service? Vote with your feet" (or thumbs, as we do today), all my father's customers had to do is walk one block in the other direction to find another grocery store. My Dad woke up at 4:30 am each morning to bring in fresh milk and rolls for the breakfast crowd. Not quite as sexy as having a warm croissant and espresso in Paris, but the same idea. I don't know how many clients he had but I saw how he treated them. He was well aware of the risk of not satisfying each client, they didn't have to travel too far to find another grocery store.

Mrs. Lipsky came in one day asking for a very upscale deli meat. My father didn't carry it because it was too expensive and no one asked for it. When she found out he didn't have it, she looked around the store and expressed her disappointment. My father was visibly shaken not because of the embarrassing tone but rather his pending loss of a good customer. He told Mrs. Lipsky that he will personally deliver her deli meat in 20 minutes, didn't wait for her to say anything asked me and my mother to watch the store and went out. He rode his  rusty bike across town to buy the deli meat. Mrs. Lipsky came back for many years. Her taste for deli meats kept changing but she knew she could count on my Dad.

There were many such stories and my father's simple yet intuitive business sense about customer satisfaction kept the business alive. At some point, he bought a self-service refrigerator to allow shoppers to fill their own bag rather than wait on line. He later started a holiday-basked business because someone simply asked him if he could make one.

My Dad's universe evolved around the fear of losing a customer. It wasn't just about loss of revenue, it was a sense of failure when someone didn't come back.

My Dad wasn't motivated by profit. He cared about having enough money in the drawers to buy new products and replenish stock. His trusty pencil was doing all of the math before calculators showed up. He would add long lists of items extremely fast and could have made up totals - no one bothered to check. Yet, he never cheated. He was a man of integrity and pride that he made an honest living. One time, he went through a list of groceries that was on the counter and realized he added wrong. He walked over to his customer and returned the equivalent of one dollar. There was a reason why no one has ever checked his math. They knew with certainty that he will never cross the line.

Zvi Asch, never took anyone for granted and was able to support a family even as larger supermarkets were opening all around him. Everyone loved my Dad for his dedication, integrity and knowing that he would always have what they liked to eat.

Share your comments, drop me a note and tell me who imprinted on your business ethics.


  • There are competitors lurking all around you. Now more than ever. Don't give customers a reason to go looking elsewhere
  • Stay in touch with your customers. Ask them how they feel. Ask them what they want. Let them know you care by your actions not slogans.
  • Be creative and spend everyday thinking about improving your customers' experience.
  • Never take your business and your customers for granted. Imagine what it would be like without them.
  • Why do customers choose to do business with you? Do you ask? Don't be afraid to and reward them for sharing - it'll keep you a step ahead of your competitors