Every new business has it's share of revelations. No, I'm not referring to the twists and turns of entrepreneurship. I'm talking about assumptions and expectations I had about my target market that ended up being totally wrong. Surprise!
I assumed women would be my critical shoppers. I was afraid they would scoff at "convenience pricing" and I'd have to work to convince them of the real savings of drive-thru grocery shopping. I myself am obsessive with our grocery budget and can get double the groceries my husband picks up at the store for the same price. I just figured male shoppers would be more accustomed to convenience pricing. Because they buy lunch at Town Pump. And time is money, right?
In actuality, women don't flinch at all when I give them their total. They are grateful. They know the service I've just provided them. And their level of gratitude is directly correlated to the number of car seats in their vehicle.
Several male customers however (no, not all men), act personally offended that a loaf of local Wheat Montana bread is $3.75. Why is this?
People don't know how much they pay for grocery items. Studies show people remember the price of only 4 items at the store (bread, eggs, bananas, milk). That's generally why those items don't fluctuate much in price. Everything else has a much broader possible range in your memory. You know bananas are between .59-.69/lb, but apples will be anywhere from .79-3.50/lb. A 16 ounce tub of cottage cheese is somewhere between 2.25-4.75/lb. Those are some wide margins grocery stores get to play with. And they do.
In Bozeman, one store might have the cheapest milk, but their meat is outrageously priced. Another store has less expensive meat, but you'll get nickle and dimed on the canned goods, etc.
Women still do most of the grocery shopping in the average household. They are more familiar with supermarket pricing, so they know $6.00 for a pound of bacon is not a rip-off. When they pay $4.00 for a carton of cage-free local eggs, they don't think I'm making a $3.58 profit.
Generally, the guys who have reacted negatively to our prices are the ones running an errand at someone's request. They aren't the ones who do the regular shopping and see grocery pricing every week.
Another shocker after opening: we aren't even expensive! When I started the Ridge Run business plan, I assumed our pricing would be significantly higher than a supermarket and closer to gas station cost. But our prices are always less "convenience store" and more "grocery store". I often go into local stores and find the same products and brands are costlier than ours! For some reason that frustrates me, but I can't really articulate why.
Luckily, even when those few folks get offended about their total, they are still nice. Which really has been the most surprising part of all in this venture: Our customers are really, really cool.
Yes, there were haters out there when people first heard about us. There are a surprising number of people threatened by others' adventures or *gasp* potential success. All those motivational quotes for risk-takers and big-thinkers about small-minded negative people were quite helpful. But I was genuinely fearful of our patrons. I mean... "people", am I right? They can be awful. And I've worked closely with people my whole career. I should have been more comfortable. But clients aren't really the same as customers (although they should be considered so, but that's a different blog post for another time), and I was nervous about them "always being right" and such.
Our wonderful community and customers have helped me become confident about the value of our service. And like I said, they are really, really cool. We get to have the best conversations with you all every day and we LOVE IT.
What a pleasant surprise that has been.
Other unexpected things in the new drive-thru grocery business world:
1. Nobody needs hot sauce.
It must just be our household that is always running out. Who knew.
2. There are super friendly vendors in the area.
I'm not sure what I expected there. Yes, a few I called were kind of short with me and wrote me off. "You mean you don't want to put a bunch of work into a tiny new business with an inexperienced owner, no profits, and minimal return on your investment?!" Crazy, I know. But other vendors, the ones I've obviously chosen to work with, are way more supportive and excited for me than I anticipated. Many reached out to me. They have been super helpful in getting us up and going and their respect has earned our loyalty for sure.
3. It was easier to find the perfect employees than I could have ever imagined.
I talked to several staffing agencies because I dreaded this aspect. But, we were able to find a lovely fit, on our own, and save a bunch of money doing so. And the ones we found were the most laid-back, competent, trustworthy, and flexible employees you could ever dream of.
3. You guys don't want Ritz crackers, either?!
Seriously, that one baffles me. And they don't have a long shelf life, did you know that? Maybe it's all the butter in them. It's ok though, my kids will happily eat expired Ritz crackers for the next year. Those bad boys aren't going to the Food Bank.