Compassionate grocers make stores stand out

June 20, 2011

In supermarkets, nice guys can finish first, in the hearts of their communities.

The retail legacy of John Johnson, owner of John’s Friendly Market in Haddon Heights, Ohio, is apropos for our first morning back to work after spending a day celebrating fathers.

Johnson acted like a second dad to so many in his community. By doing so, he underscored the special place supermarkets have in their neighborhoods, and showed how compassionate grocers can make their stores great.  

He died recently at the age of 91. The outpouring of shopper grief is testament to the loyalty he and the store fostered. It is loyalty, we believe at The Lempert Report, that’s at least as strong as any a marketer could create.

Relatively few would do what Johnson did, we feel. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, he employed more people than the store required so he could give jobs to local teens; he filled bags with food and handed them to people in need; he dropped a birthday bouquet of flowers on the doorstep of a favorite shopper. The tales go on.

Yes, he is a throwback to an earlier day, when people mattered more than data, and decisions were based on humanity as much as business sense. It is good that grocers aid their communities after natural disasters, fires and other calamities. Those are exceptional efforts too, but Johnson was different because he did this every day.

It may be hard to measure, but we think being kind is not only the right thing to do, but it is good business. Grocers like Johnson and Morty Wolfson of ShopRite, who passed away in 2001, set the bar high on humanity and retail performance. We honor them on this first morning after Father’s Day.