Opportunity can arrive by the grocery bagful

Guest Column: Chris Westerkamp
Not all lemons tossed at your business have the chance of becoming lemonade, but many do. The question is: does your company have the mindset to see when opportunity is wrapped in adversity? More

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OPINION

Opportunity can arrive by the grocery bagful

Guest Column: Chris Westerkamp
Posted 10/17/11

Not all lemons tossed at your business have the chance of becoming lemonade, but many do. The question is: does your company have the mindset to see when opportunity is wrapped in adversity?

Just a few short years ago, the grocery-store business was caught in a no-win position of offering a choice of either paper or plastic bags. Neither was good in terms of the environment: One killed trees and the other clogged landfills.

The answer was the reusable grocery bag, introduced for environmentally conscious shoppers willing to spend a little to save the planet. The large grocery chains viewed reusable bags as a task to be done. Give the customer a bag at a price they will pay. So Stop & Shop, Shaw’s and the other big chains produced small, dull and utilitarian bags.

The outliers in the grocery business, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, saw the bags as an opportunity to engage their customers and boost their store brands.

The reusable-bag story demonstrates the difference between the mindsets of the outliers and mainstream corporate retailers. While the corporate minds said, “We gotta have these bags,” no doubt focusing on cost and utility, the thinking of Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods was different: How can we make this fun to encourage people to use them and showcase our brand in the process?

All you have to do is look at the bags to see which companies showed imagination and an active right brain and which did not. Today, you can buy early editions of the Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods reusable bags on eBay for as high as $15 apiece.

Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have managed to maintain the unique appeal they held with customers when they were smaller. It makes sense that both carry a deeper understanding of their customers’ concerns about the environment, because both catered to consumers of organic meats and vegetables when they started up.

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