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Clint Engel

Can we learn anything from Kroger?

June 24, 2009

Is there a lesson for the furniture industry in the recent gains grocery store chains are enjoying, thanks to their back-to-basics strategy?

The Wall Street Journal reports that Kroger, Publix and other grocery stores are seeing added profits in the so-called center aisles — where they sell things like canned vegetables, cereal, pasta and flour — gaining back ground they previously ceded to companies such as Wal-Mart and Costco. (You can read the WSJ story here with an online subscription).

This basic-offerings approach, driven by the recession and the consumer’s shift to more home-cooked meals, is “upending a multiyear strategy of using coffee bars, fancy bakeries and exotic product to attract shoppers,” the story said.

While I’m pretty sure furniture is not edible, I wonder if there may be a lesson for furniture stores somewhere in all of this.

Just as grocery chains once moved to the periphery to keep customers coming into their stores with everything from floral shops to coffee bars, many furniture stores have done the same thing with fresh-baked cookies and cafes to keep their visitors happy.

The Wall Street Journal article also notes the success Kroger and others are having with their value-oriented store brands as consumers look for ways to save. In our industry it seems store brands are too often used more as a way to keep the customer from comparison shopping. Where’s the value in that?

Maybe what the furniture-shopping consumer wants even more than a fresh cookie these days is a good deal and a great value on some the most important furniture for the home — the sofa, the television consoles and cabinets, bedroom groups and mattresses.

Maybe they want to know that the store is going to be around tomorrow and that the salesperson is knowledgeable and understands that everyone today is worried about losing a job or getting the next one. Can that salesperson point the way to most appropriate furniture for a tight budget or clearly explain why dropping a few more dollars will be worth it in the long run, without coming across like a shark eager to beef up a ticket?

Everything else may be like the extras that appear to have companies like Whole Foods underperforming companies like Kroger. Are all those extras keeping you from offering the best deal on what you really sell?

I love the smell of fresh-baked cookies and fresh-brewed coffee as much as the next guy, but how much for the sofa?