Community Support is Critical to Sustain Rural Grocery Stores
by Lauren Swirbul
Effective marketing is key to bring awareness to the community of what a local store can provide. The discussion group came up with innovative ideas to market a store successfully. They decided stores should target youth and provide college scholarships for students who work in the rural stores. Another strategy was to create T-shirts that emphasized the importance of buying locally to the community. The group determined the best way local stores could gain community support was by responding to community needs. To do this, the store could provide hot meals to impoverished families, deliver food to widows, partner with local schools, and create a benefit plan for individuals with special needs. The group also recommended celebrating the history of the town and store, and to make the store a unique attraction to the town.
The discussion group came across many problems regarding support for the stores. Rural grocery storeowners want to get youth involved but do not know how to reach their generation.
The group suggested using social media tools such as text messages or fan pages for the store on Facebook to reach community youth. The group also decided it was beneficial to create customer loyalty programs to keep customers returning to the store. One summit participant suggested that stores display a thermometer or chart showing the number of loyal store customers and an incentive to reach a certain number.
The group discussed ways that CECD could continue supporting rural grocery stores. One possible way is for CECD to communicate the importance of rural grocery stores with other organizations around Manhattan and through various partnerships. The group proposed that CECD send emails to members of ruralgrocery.org when a relevant grant for rural grocery stores becomes available. The organization could make the on-going information about the summit available to other states dealing with a decline in support for rural grocery stores as well. The group agreed that the summit was beneficial in finding ways for rural stores to gain support and sustainability.