Image Building

For those of you who have taken my seminars or read my ebooks, you have heard about West Point Market in Akron, Ohio. I learned about this grocery store from Inc. Magazine back in 1990. For those of you who haven’t read about West Point Market, it’s a wonderful example of focused and diligent marketing. This market has developed an image of the place to go to buy good food and wine, and all without advertising. That’s not to say the owner doesn’t spend money promoting his store, he just doesn’t invest in traditional advertising. And the store is wildly successful. In the day of large chain groceries that keep customers based on low prices and weekly specials, this grocer is making it on quality products and without weekly specials or discounted prices.

Russell Vernon started West Point Market and his son has recently taken over at the helm. The initial approach was to pay attention to the stocked inventory, who was hired and how the store looked. The way he has gotten the word out about the store has been to sponsor both the Ohio Ballet and the Akron Symphony at a cost of $20,000 per year. I don’t know what the sponsorships cost now, but in 1990 they cost the same as three full-page ads in The Akron Beacon Journal, so it may well still be about that equivalent cost. Additionally he donates to the hospital drive, donating a black-tie dinner for 16, held in the store after hours. The resulting publicity has been phenomenal.

I’ve loved this success story since I read about it. Consequently, when I recently found myself in “the neighborhood” on business, I arranged to visit. What a treat! I found an upscale grocery that really pays attention to the details. The floral and gift department are the first section of the store you walk through as you head to other departments. The wine selection is extensive and complete with a sommelier to help you select the right wines for your needs. The butcher displays wonderful-looking meats. The same goes for all the other departments I browsed.

I’d heard flower arrangements and plants were used around the store for decoration and to make it easier for their customers to pick up a center piece or decoration on a whim, or when they realized they needed it, without making the customer go back to the floral department. And that’s what I found. It was a nice touch.

But the rest of the store is arranged so beautifully I wouldn’t have noticed that extra touch if I hadn’t been looking. For example, three kinds of eggplant were displayed together (I didn’t know there were three kinds of eggplant) in baskets set on purple fabric, and the strawberries were sitting in baskets on red fabric that had gold threads making a pattern. It was glorious! And the other produce displays were made with the same attention to detail. Additionally, produce was scattered around in such a way as to make it easy to plan a complete meal. For example, if you were selecting ingredients for a dip, some vegetables were right there too, making it easier to think about your crudite platter.

The gift department wasn’t just cute little trinkets, there were some beautiful tableware and place setting options also. There were cute gifts, but there were elegant and wonderful candle holders, vases, and salt cellars as well. And then there was the kitchen gadget section of the store. Wow! Everything I saw was quality. And the prices were higher than I’m used to in my rural setting, which can be a bit more expensive than a more urban setting; a half gallon of Horizon organic milk was about $4.00/gallon instead of $3.50/gallon at our big-chain grocery. But the store was full of people, so clearly they are attracting people who will pay the higher prices for the higher quality.

The key to making a strategy like this work is knowing exactly who are and who your market is. Then each decision you make is with your guest in mind. If your image isn’t attractive to some potential guest, they’ll keep on looking, but those who are interested will be happy with their guest experience. The way to stay focused on your image is to ask these questions daily as you make any business decision:

  1. Is this consistent with who we are?
  2. Does this help me achieve my goal?
  3. Will our guests like it?
  4. How can we do all this and still make money?

You may be wondering how the Vernon family does this with their grocery store. Simple and basic: they connect with their target market and do as much as they can to satisfy that customer and give them a quality experience. The store isn’t for everyone, and that’s fine.

Your bed and breakfast can’t satisfy everyone either; that should be fine. And the guests who are attracted to your B&B image should get the best possible experience for your niche. Know who you are, including strengths and weaknesses, and exactly who your market is. Keep your guest in mind with each decision you make, thinking about whether this will enhance their experience or not, and whether you can make money with the decision you are making.

Keep your primary business goal in mind as you go through each and every day. Avoid doing anything that doesn’t support that goal, and especially things that will detract or hurt that business goal. Do everything you can to create a quality guest experience so you can persuade your guests to return and recommend you to their friends, family and work associates.

Return and referral business is the best barometer of how successful you are at building and maintaining a consistent image and market niche. That success will translate to financial success. Now that is image building and great niche marketing!

1 thought on “Image Building”

  1. Beautiful rendition of West Point Market. West Point offers a shopping experience most people will never know or understand.
    Living in Colorado for 12 years leaves me with deep sadness and longing for my time in Cleveland and West Point Market.
    Thank you Russ for the memories and GREAT products.

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