By Michael Rocha, Contributing Writer
Walking through the auto-mated sliding doors, I witnessed a massive stampede of shoppers, scurrying through the aisles-joining. massive lines and paying low prices. Too low
While the opening of Market Basket in Fall River on October 7th was hit with shoppers, the same can’t be said with local businesses from around the area.
At smaller local supermarkets like Lees in Westport and Clements in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, “the focus has to be on differentiating ourselves by investing in the community and making sure we keep the local feel,” said John David Squires, Produce Manager of Lees Market in Westport.
The prices and deals at Market Basket were cheaper than Lees. For example, an Arizona Green Tea gallon was priced at $2.50, while local counterparts had them for a dollar more. Barilla Pasta at 50 cents more, etc… It was no wonder why this place welcomed so many people; these prices were just a bargain.
Kevin Griffen, of Boston.com wrote “Efficiency is also the name of the game in the company’s buying processes. The company buys in large bulks, knowing the low prices will keep shelves in need of restocking.”
But although local businesses may lose on price, they can use other strategies to win back customers.
Lees and Clements are small and give out a local feel with their array of décor reflecting their respective towns. For example, the cafe at Clements had portraits of the Sakonnet Bridge and the Aquidneck Island skyline stretching across the area. Going through all 16 aisles at Lees, each aisle sign had its own landmark of the area, like Horseneck Beach, Westport Harbor, Gooseberry Island.
In the produce department of Lees, there were portraits of local farmers. All the farmers that are pictured contribute their fruits and vegetables to the store, including Little Compton’s Walkers Roadside Stand, Wishing Stone Farm, and many more.
Market Basket has no similiar community ties. Although their prices may win over some consumers, others still appreciate that sense of community of Lees and Clements. Lees really brings out that belonging as a Westport landmark, meaning that it’s a one-of-a-kind store and belongs to the town.
“The customers are happy knowing that the local church and Boy Scouts Club have all received help from their neighborhood grocery store,” said John David Squires. “It can also help innovate the store (by) helping understand what the local community needs.”
But the Market Baskets of the world still pose a challenge for the little local guys.
“When a company the caliber of Market Basket opens a store near you it isn’t something you can take lightly,” said Charlie Anthony, Department Manager of Clements Market in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. “The impact they can have in terms of sales and perception of your store with pricing can leave a lasting impact in the consumer’s mind.”
So larger chain stores may have the appeal of low-prices and great deals, local stores like Lees and Clements are betting customers to return thanks to their local ties to the community.