Harmons Delivers Different

Discussion
Apr 30, 2008

By George Anderson

Harmons is out to be different. The 13-store Utah-based grocery chain isn’t big enough to overwhelm the competition with its buying clout and low-ball pricing so its management is focused on listening to the customer and delivering a shopping experience that sets it apart from both conventional competitors and natural/organic supermarkets as well.

A case is point is the company’s new store in Draper, Utah. The 70,000-square-foot unit includes professional chefs and sous chefs creating fresh and organic foods on-premises, an espresso bar at the Park City Roasters inside the store, a carving station for roasts, fresh bread baked daily with organic ingredients and much more.

Bob Harmon, co-owner and vice president of the family business, said the company’s management made road trips around the U.S. to pick up the best ideas in store design and customer service before starting on its new jewel.

“The nature of this is you must be competitive to go forward,” he told the Deseret News. “We’re bringing a choice and an offering to the public.”

Choice is what Harmons is about and the company has looked to fill the new store with a wide selection of organic and specialty gourmet items that have a targeted appeal for the Draper’s stores customer demographics.

David Livingston, principal with DJL Research and a member of the RetailWire BrainTrust, told the Deseret News that Harmons is taking the steps it must to remain competitive.

On one hand, Mr. Livingston said, is Wal-Mart and others touting low-prices and self-service. On the other are stores such as Albertsons and Smith’s that “have been upgrading over the years… raising the bar of what plain vanilla is.”

Discussion Questions: Is the upscale grocery niche that Harmons and others seek to fill a more risky proposition in the current economic environment than it would be during a period of more rapid growth? What do Harmons and other small grocery chains and independents around the U.S. have in common that enable them to succeed against much larger competition?

[Author’s Commentary]
“Plain vanilla” may reside inside some of Harmons’ ice cream freezers but it is the last thing the grocer is about. The company has a reputation that goes well beyond its size with a culture of service excellence embraced by the entire organization. The company’s stated vision for itself is “To be remarkable. People will be disappointed shopping anywhere else.” It’s been awhile since we were last in a Harmons but even then we could see how customers would be disappointed by the experience at shopping at one of its competitors.

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11 Comments on "Harmons Delivers Different"


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Max Goldberg
Guest
14 years 18 days ago

The key sentence in the article is, “…the company has looked to fill the new store with a wide selection of organic and specialty gourmet items that have a targeted appeal for the Draper’s stores customer demographics.” By taking into account the local demographics, Harmon’s can make its offering stand apart from the competition. It should not throw away its core story during the current economic downturn.

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
14 years 18 days ago

A niche by definition is risky. But if you do the same thing as every one else it becomes a more risky proposition.

Upscale is an overused and often misused term. I think you can make shoppers feel special and not poverty stricken in a recessionary environment by offering good quality products at reasonable prices.

David Livingston
Guest
14 years 18 days ago

When you are such a well run private operation such as Harmons, the risk is much lower. They pretty much cater to an upscale consumer anyway. Seems to me they are simply improving upon an already top level operation.

Michael L. Howatt
Guest
Michael L. Howatt
14 years 18 days ago

Shoppers long for retailers who make them feel special when they are in the store. With the cold and unfeeling atmosphere of chains today, it is a welcome change and worth a few more pennies.

Look at Treasure Island. I would classify them as very successful. Can this work if they expand into more geographic areas? Why not? If they keep that small town feel, and still stock name brand essentials, their value proposition should hold up well.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 18 days ago

Harmons’ credo: “People will be disappointed shopping anywhere else.” Most retailers’ credo: “People won’t be able to tell our store from 80,000 other places.” Of course, the “easiest” positionings are high-end and low-end. The toughest: how to be special to the middle.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
14 years 18 days ago

My best advice for Harmons and other smaller chains is to differentiate themselves from the competition in whatever ways they can deliver best and consistently to their customers. And then keep evaluating your efforts and make constant improvements.

Keep listening to your customers and let them know you are responding to their feedback based on what they see in your stores.

Mary Baum
Guest
Mary Baum
14 years 18 days ago

It would seem to me that in an economy where people are cutting back on eating out, a Harmons experience might be the next best thing–a way to feel special and catered to after a long, hard day (or week) for a lot less money than eating in restaurants.

In fact, Harmons could make real hay from the recession by strengthening (if need be) its gourmet prepared foods, laying on the service even more and promoting that department as the extremely affordable alternative to each market’s best restaurants.

The chain could also expand that positioning throughout the store, perhaps by talking about restaurant-quality ingredients and even referring to its service levels as restaurant-quality, or five-star. The common thread would be to make shopping at Harmons and eating in as relaxing and stress-free as going to a restaurant, at a fraction of the cost.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
14 years 18 days ago

This is exactly what needs to be done to separate yourself from the competition. Adding services and value to the shopping experience is how you bring customers back.

While the big boys are cutting labor and with that, customer service, it is refreshing to see some retailers making a progressive move to supporting their customers, especially in these trying economic times. Mr. Harmon is making a good investment with his new store. I would love to see the results.

Dan Desmarais
Guest
Dan Desmarais
14 years 18 days ago

“Fulfill a Need. Keep it Simple. Go against a Trend.”

– “Honest” Ed Mirvish

With everyone worrying so much about what’s going wrong in the current economy and what’s might happen, there are still a few companies deciding to capitalize on this opportunity and set themselves up for success.

The rich are getting richer. The demand for high-end stores like this will continue to rise.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
14 years 18 days ago

It is never the wrong time to be innovative and provide better customer service than the competition. This may a first be easy when competing with the big boxes. It becomes harder when the challenger is another upscale grocer. But in the end who wins? The customer! Yeah!

Carlos Arámbula
Guest
14 years 18 days ago

Differentiate or die is the rule during good economic times, so it becomes more important during the current environment.

The need for a high-end grocer will always exist and is not a priced based concept, rather a service and product based proposition. Within that space, of a high-end concept grocer, Harmons will have to compete with similar grocers.

I believe operational issues will be more critical for Harmons. Issues like store locations will play a bigger role in longevity and success.

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