When I go to my local grocery store, I try to get in and out as quickly as possible. I only go to the aisles that I need to visit, because I know exactly what’s in the store. I know the products they offer and the brands they carry. Every once in a great while, the store will introduce a new brand or a new product, but I will stumble across it only if I’m looking for something else.

However, if I’m shopping in a new location or visiting a brand-new store, I don’t mind shopping aisle by aisle to see what they offer. The last time I was in Texas, I had to make a couple of stops at an H-E-B, and I took my time there. H-E-B is a big believer in promoting Texas-made products, so there were plenty of products I’d never seen before. The meat case in particular had a variety of interesting brands and products.

I don’t think I’m alone in this shopping pattern. We consumers are usually in a hurry to shop, so we get exactly what we need and get out as quickly as possible. However, we’re willing to take a little more time, if the shop makes it worth our while.

Just recently, I visited Inboden’s Gourmet Meats & Specialty Foods in DeKalb, Ill. It was exactly the type of store where I could walk in looking for a pound of ground beef and walk out an hour later with three shopping bags full of food. You can go in there to shop, but you inevitably end up exploring, because each aisle or section of the store has wonderful-looking store-made desserts, appetizers or entrees. The other products on the shelves came from local companies or off-the-wall brands. Tom Inboden, as he was taking me through the facility, joked that whenever people ask him where they could find the Coca-Cola, he says, “In the gas station across the street.”

I think that strikes exactly the right tone for an independent food market. Your customers may be long-term shoppers, or maybe they just discovered you during the pandemic when their usual stores ran out of ground beef. Whatever the case, they are visiting your store because you offer the best meat products, and they can’t find it anywhere else. The rest of the products you sell should be along the same line. They can buy their usual case of beer or bag of chips at any store in town. But if they want to get a pound of the best bratwurst or bacon, along with a 6-pack of craft beer, locally made honey and a chocolate cake from a local baker, then there’s one place to go: your market.

Big brand stores and products are useful, but they have lost their “specialness.” Starbucks coffee isn’t special. The coffee shop located next to my local hardware store is special. The hot dogs I buy at my local big box store are good, but they’re not special. The hot dogs I order from my area deli are special. If you stock your store with all kinds of special products, shopping there won’t be an errand to hurry through. It will be an occasion to enjoy.

Sam Gazdziak