Big Box Stores vs Mom & Pop Operation

A few months ago, I emerged from an illness imposed hibernation that left me feeling more than a little hemmed in. Driving around to run some errands, I began to wonder what I felt had been missing from my life for the past few weeks. Then it dawned on me. I hadn’t gone to the small grocery store in our neighborhood for the entire two weeks I had been sick. There had been a void in my routine that only a trip there could fill. I made a point to bypass the big box store and go the opposite direction to my favorite Mom & Pop grocery.

As I approached, I pondered… What was it that drew me there? What psychological need did it satisfy in me?

Since the opening of the new super colossal megastore on our side of the lake, I really had no excuse not to shop big box. My justification had always been that it was too far to drive into the city and therefore my husband had done a lot of our grocery shopping as he drove right by on his daily commute. The megastore now in the same locale of my other errands, did have everything after all. You could buy an oil filter for your car, get a new cell phone, purchase a pair of summer shoes, a birthday card, and a gallon of milk all in one cart. So, convenience was definitely a plus.

But what about my favorite Mom & Pop operation? There was a different form of convenience there. In fact, when I pulled into the parking lot the last time, there was a parking spot directly against the wall of the store. The walk to the store’s entrance door was shorter than from my parking spot at home into my house. Immediately upon entry, the produce manager caught my eye, smiled and said a hearty hello.

The employees at the mega store had never done anything like that. The best service I ever received out of them was when I tracked them down to help me find a specific item. I can’t remember one of them smiling. In fact they often seemed almost irritated by the interruption. More than once I have gone away disappointed when they didn’t have what I wanted.

Yes, you heard right. They didn’t carry my brand.

Somewhere deep in my psyche was a growing distaste. It wasn’t until I stopped to analyze it that I realized there was something gnawing at me from inside that wasn’t immediately obvious. If the bulk of the population shops at big box because or price and availability, why then is the Mom & Pop still in existence? Perhaps a deeper look will reveal the answer.

Some hidden perks of the Mom & Pop…
1) Short lineups. If there are more than 3 customers in line, another cash register gets opened.
2) My groceries are bagged for me.
3) I don’t have to pay extra for bags.
4) It is closer to my home because a small grocery store can tuck nicely into a mostly residential area quite easily without having to have a lot of extra real estate.
5) I don’t have to walk across a huge parking lot to get to the store (especially in inclement weather). When emerging with my purchases I don’t have to stand in said inclement weather seemingly forever, wondering where my car is located in the sea of grey sedans.
6) I don’t have to have the correct change for the shopping cart – theirs are free!
7) Since the store is much smaller, I can be in and out of there in a matter of minutes.
8) The long-time clerk knows me by name, knows my kids and usually offers to give them a treat (after asking my permission first, of course!)
9) If I shop the flyer specials, buy during the case lot sales and purchase loss leaders, it makes my grocery bill just about as inexpensive as the big box.

There are definitely some, though maybe not so obvious, downfalls of the bigbox store. Despite the huge amount of goods in the store, it lacks variety. Bedazzled by rows & rows of product, it is not immediately obvious that there is just a lot of the same thing in large quantities. This is a strategic move by the big box stores to cut down on the constant stocking of shelves and saves money.

The result of this is… the big box dictates the brands to the customer by availability. Usually, if shoppers can’t find the specific brand they prefer, they will opt for an alternative, most likely the less expensive store brand in lieu of the one they had on their list. Eventually, they will switch to the store brand if it is less expensive even if it means compromising quality.

Mom & pop stores know they must carry the popular brands in order to keep the customer. Brand name companies know, as well, that they are competing against store brands and often run promotions that the small, independent store can take advantage of without having to lose money. Thus, they look good in the eyes of the consumer by offering brand name items at discounted prices.

At Mom & Pop’s it is all about pleasing the customer. At Big box, it is about luring the consumer in by price and offering items other than groceries to keep them coming back. It’s a game all right. No longer is it a case of Big Brother watching. It has come down to Big Brother controlling.

But is everyone buying it?

I, for one, am not.