10 Lessons from the Grocery Store and How they Apply to Business
by Mark Raciappa
Lessons to be learned in business are all around us. Here’s my take on some you might discover in, of all places, the grocery store.
- Some things are right under our noses. Have you ever searched for something in the spice section? All those jars look alike and when you finally give up and ask for help, the clerk walks right up and hands you what you need. (Hint: They’re arranged alphabetically) The same is often true in business—it just takes an objective third party to point it out.
- Lowest price isn’t always the best deal. Does it meet your needs for utility and quality? What about reliability and consistency? Is there “value” in a long-term relationship? Am I talking about food or business? Yes!
- The squeaky wheel gets the grease. This applies to that one wayward shopping cart that you grabbed that has the “jiggly” or mis-directed wheel. It also applies to one aspect of effective communication. The key point here is that assertive, not aggressive, gets your message through and that applies whether you are talking to clients or colleagues, associates or suppliers.
- Getting a “bargain” may require a little effort. In the grocery store, the easiest items to reach are often the most profitable for the store. We often speak of seeking the “low-hanging fruit”. In reality, whether we’re talking about clients, revenues, or profit, we know it takes dedication and effort. The bargains at the store are usually on the bottom shelf and you will have to extend (or bend!) your comfort zone to acquire them. Expect the same in business.
- Nobody wants to check out until the storm starts. This is truly amazing to watch. With a thunderstorm approaching, dark clouds gathering, a distant rumble of thunder, shoppers inside the store take their time chatting and strolling about. The moment the downpour starts, everyone rushes urgently to the checkouts. Why didn’t they rush to finish BEFORE the storm hit? Apply this to the behavior of business owners. Why do they wait, seeing and hearing the warning signs of impending trouble, before taking Action?
- The shortest line is not the quickest. Have you ever jumped into the shortest line only to discover that it’s at a standstill due to a conflict, price check, or something MINOR that has NO RIGHT to hold up progress? In business, the shortest path, or so it seems, is often bogged down. The “short-cut” approach to quality, service, or team development rarely yields your desired result. Slow and steady wins the race. Invest the time to do it right.
- Waiting until the last minute is a recipe for disaster. Hopefully you’ve learned by now NOT to shop for your holiday meal on the day before Thanksgiving, December 24, or July 3. The vast majority of shoppers still refuse to adopt this simple concept. The most sought-after products are sold-out or picked-over, the lines are longer, patience is thinner, etc. As in business, most don’t plan to fail but they do fail to plan. Time and time again, longevity in business has been related to proper planning. Take time to think, look ahead, and allow a safety margin for the unexpected.
- Even with proper maintenance and planning, things break. It pays to have a back-up: a separate hard-drive to store computer files, a generator for power failures, etc. This applies to more than equipment. Cross-train your employees to cover for illness, vacations, and departures. Make arrangements with secondary suppliers for critical items needed to run your business. Think about areas where you are most vulnerable and prepare for contingencies.
- A warm smile, “Thank you”, expressions of appreciation always win the day. Positive energy is reflected back, relationships with clients, co-workers, and suppliers are strengthened, and there is no adverse effect on your bank account. Keep a positive attitude and remember that you can have fun at work (within the rules!). Try to “catch” someone doing something right. Delight him/her by pointing it out.
- If you are ready for pictures, you are ready for business. Years ago I made a sign with those words and hung it near the time clock. Just like at home when we have “company” coming, we rush around to pick up and clean up. Our clients ARE our “company” and we should prepare the same way. Imagine if the newspaper or TV station were to feature your business and send a camera crew to take pictures and conduct an interview. Wouldn’t you want to look your best? Take pride in the presentation of yourself and your workplace. YOU are your best good-will ambassador!