Play on a bigger stage than the retail arena

May 21, 2013

Support local culture – help shoppers associate the store with a better quality of life.

What apparel retailer Uniqlo has done in New York City could be a model for food retailers in metropolitan markets that want to support culture and be connected to something grander than deals and convenience.   

Uniqlo, which recently opened a store on the same block as the Museum of Modern Art, in early May began sponsoring free admissions every Friday from 4 to 8 pm. Showing the passion of Tadashi Yanai, the parent company’s CEO—MoMA is his “favorite museum in the world,” he says—Uniqlo has committed to be an exclusive sponsor for multiple years.  Each admission is a $25 value.

This scale is too extravagant for food chains that net 2% margins.  But the principle, executed well, could help differentiate local and regional chains from competitors headquartered elsewhere.  Local and regional operators are invested in the areas where they live and trade—and even smaller efforts that support music, the arts, sports, family or other community causes create contrast vs. outsiders and align local and regional stores with their primary shoppers.

Such funding to extend a halo around the store needn’t be expensive, but it should be consistent and not appear opportunistic, suggests The Lempert Report.  At the low-cost end, a store could sponsor summer movie nights at the park and give out free store-brand treats such as ice cream cups and bottled water.   More sophisticated events could tie to local libraries, where the store’s dietitians might host educational sessions, or special exhibits at local museums, where food sampling could expose visitors to tastes they might not have expected to come from supermarket chefs—and where food themes could align with what’s shown.