Spires learned early on what it takes to get someone in a grocery store

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Spires learned early on what it takes to get someone in a grocery store

By Lawrence Aylward - 12/06/2017
Judith Spires: "You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable."

Judith Spires’ keynote address at the Private Label Trade Show a few weeks ago was supposed to end at 9 a.m. At 9:15, the chairman and CEO of Parsippany, N.J.-based Kings & Balducci’s Supermarkets was still talking.

No complaints here. If you could harvest the passion that Spires brought to the near-capacity room and pass it out to attendees, everybody would have left with full baskets.

If there is anybody who was born to be in the grocery business, it is Spires, the daughter of an Acme Markets truck driver. Spires worked as a part-time cashier at an Acme Markets store in Malvern, Pa., to help pay for college. She enjoyed it so much that she told her father that she wanted to be a grocery store manager after graduating from college. Of course, she went on to become much more than that.

I love the Christmas story that Spires told about being a little girl and asking Santa Claus for a toy grocery store stand, when all of her friends were asking for Easy-Bake Ovens, because the story gives insight into Spires’ creative marketing and merchandising mind, a reason she is regarded as a trailblazer in the industry. Santa delivered the toy grocery stand, but there was a problem — none of Spires’ friends wanted to play grocery with her.

But rather than mope and wish she had never asked for the present, Spires got to thinking of how she could persuade her friends to play with her.

“In order to make my friends want to play with me, I realized I needed to offer them what we call today a compelling value proposition,” Spires said.

She knew she had to offer an experience to her friends that was fun, different and provoked surprise. So she filled boxes in her grocery store stand with lollipops and other unexpected treats. She held taste tests featuring different foods and made up other grocery store games.

“And guess what?” Spires said. “My friends started showing up to play.”

Spires learned early on what it takes to get someone into a grocery store. (Incidentally, she believes that the so-called demise of brick and mortar stores is greatly exaggerated.) You have to offer an experience that is dynamic, exclusive and enjoyable. And when there’s the slightest inkling that those influences are beginning to fade — picture Spires’ childhood friends wanting to play something else because they are getting bored playing grocery — then you change it up to keep the experience engaging.

But it’s hard work and you must be willing to take risks to see what works and what doesn’t. It’s about having the ability to recognize trends early and to act on them quickly. And, yes, it’s about being able to stomach uncertainty.

“You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Spires said.

Spires has been playing the grocery game long enough to know.















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