Monday, March 31, 2008

Fresh and Easy: News

It is being reported (skeptically I might add) that Fresh and Easy is suspending its expansion program for three months. Interesting. F&E says the suspension was planned and they are pleased with the stores performance to date statewide. Wall street disagrees, stating that store sales are flagging and there is quite a bit of disappointment. Hmmm. With the dollar as weak as it is, it would seem they'd be full steam ahead on an expansion using foreign money. Being that you're getting supplies at a deep discount to build now is the time to be moving full speed ahead. There has to be more to the story than is being told currently.

F&E also states that they have been giving the chain a chance to kick the tires and make a few changes customers had requested. I know one thing. My F&E has been given a lesson in customer service. The store manager actually made eye contact with me and asked if I was finding everything I needed last week when I was in. It was surprising as I had been in several times and tried to make eye contact with him and had him purposefully look at the shelf he was stocking. If it were one time only I probably would have thought he was busy working but when you go in and it happens over and over it makes you wonder. Well, finally he spoke, and I was glad he was more comfortable reaching out to a customer.

That last paragraph makes me sound as if I think the store personnel are there to be my friends. Not really. However, when I worked at Central Market, we were taught that a customer, is always greeted when they pass by, not only when it is convenient. Central Market has set the bar high and other retailers would be rewarded by looking at their model of customer service. Given the fact that the F&E I shop in rarely has more than 20 (and I'm being generous) customers in it at one time, making that about a 2 to 1 ratio employees to customers, there is no reason they shouldn't be able to do that. It makes perfect sense to teach your employees how to "sell" to the customers and make the grocery buying experience a learning process as well as meeting their needs. Given that a lot of the products are F&E branded it would be good to be able to highlight the features and benefits of a product such as English Bacon. What makes it different, better or superior to what a customer is used to purchasing.

I hope they make it. I love the fresh green I can purchase daily. They taste a lot better than the ready made salads available city wide in larger stores. I love the line of butters, cheeses and deli choices. Given time F&E will fill a much needed slot in the grocery arena. I applaud them for stepping up and moving into markets others fear to tread. Bristol Farms, Trader Joe's are not willing to build stores in my burb. Fresh and Easy has built two so far and I hear they are thinking of one other on the other end of the valley (east side). Bristol and Trader's use the excuse that we aren't near their distribution hubs and our population lags the rest of the county yet they both have stores 2 hours from here 4 hours from the nearest distribution center. Let's not even mention Whole paycheck, er um , I mean Whole Foods.

I hope Fresh and Easy listens to their customers, talks to their customers and continues their expansion. We need another alternative to the standard bearer markets.