What Neil Stern, senior partner at Chicago-based retail consulting firm McMillanDoolittle, admires about Mariano’s is its ability to combine superb customer service, outstanding quality in perishables and prepared foods, and low prices in the grocery channel.
“If they can pull this off, it makes them very unique in the market,” says Stern. “They are really not asking shoppers to give up very much by shopping there, which has certainly expanded their market and customer reach.”
Mariano’s is also capitalizing on the trend toward freshness and quality in grocery that began about 10 years ago, says Michelle Barry, CEO of Seattle-based research firm Centric Brand Anthropology.
“The quality trend used to be something people believed was only followed by affluent suburbanites or urban shoppers,” Barry says. “But we’ve seen a pattern of intensified interest from many households in fresh foods when it comes to global or ethnic cuisine, as well as more sophisticated foodservice offerings—which are all areas Mariano’s is pursuing.”
Enhancing the Experience
Today’s shoppers seek some level of control over their shopping experience, Hyland says.
“They yearn for meaningful interactions at retail and want real connections with the stores they shop, not passive experiences. That’s why we built Mariano’s the way we did,” he says. “We’ve transformed grocery shopping from a chore to a destination.”
Jon Hauptman, partner with Willard Bishop LLC, Barrington, Ill., says Mariano’s attracts shoppers who are looking for a better fresh experience than they can find at traditional supermarkets, such as Chicago mainstays Jewel and Dominick’s, or at low-price operators such as Super Target or Walmart.
“And they’re able to keep these shoppers coming back by delivering on the fresh experience through great assortment and attentive service in deli, bakery, meat and produce,” Hauptman says, “while also providing shoppers with budget-stretching options in each of these fresh departments.”
Hauptman points out that, while some area chains offer strong quality and/or service (e.g., Whole Foods Market and The Fresh Market stores) and others provide solid value (e.g., Aldi, Meijer and Walmart), no single area retailer gives the shoppers the best of both worlds under one roof.
Indeed, Mariano’s entry into the grocery channel over the past three years has forced a repositioning of several other supermarkets (including Dominick’s), underscoring how much of an effect the chain has had, says Steve Montgomery, president of b2b Solutions, Lake Forest, Ill.
“Some (competitor stores) have closed and others were forced to change how they did business by upgrading their stores, customer service and more,” says Montgomery.
Upping the Value Equation
What particularly distinguishes Mariano’s from its competitors is its ability to deliver on more components of the value equation than other retailers in the marketplace, Hauptman says.