Central Market in Washington State is one of the best markets in the United States, in my opinion. The Seattle area has its fair share of foodies, so it isn’t like there’s a shortage of food outlets, but this small, independent grocery market does an amazing job of serving the customer. It is owned by Town and Country Markets, but that name only remains at its Bainbridge Island store.
Some of the things I think make it a stellar operation:
- No candy at the checkout aisle. Mostly, they tempt you with fruits and veggies. Sometimes cakes for a holiday.
- Investing in a caf?. No tip jar at the espresso stand. They pay their people fairly.
- Investing in an eating area for customers.
- Open 24 hours
- Phenomenal return policy, even on produce
- A family atmosphere
- Investing in ethnic foods
- An amazing fruit and vegetable section
- A photo wall of customers carrying Central Market re-usable bags (mostly) as they travel the globe. We’re putting some up on Facebook.
- They put a weather station on most of their stores so if you look for local weather, you can find it. Micro-weather stations.
- Plus, they do all the regular stuff: hanging community banners, donating to good causes, giving kids free cookies or a fresh-made tortilla (I’m convinced half the customer base comes in for the fresh whole wheat tortillas!). Come on, have you ever had a fresh tortilla outside of Mexico?
Yes, some of their items are more expensive, but they have items I cannot get anywhere in my local area without getting on a ferry boat to Seattle.
Once or twice a week, I’m camped out at this grocery store, in their caf? or upstairs eating area. They don’t have wireless access (which is good as I’d probably be there all day). So I have bursts of observation where I watch how they work, what they do, and what creates this trust between them and consumers. My first real job (and one of my only ones) was as a stock clear and butcher boy at an independent grocery store in Upstate New York.
I watch the deli folks take great care in making sandwiches and preparing food items. Now I’m not saying that major grocery store chains don’t care, but it is very markedly different at Central. It is clear that great care goes into hiring and training and motivating people here. Could a major chain do this? Certainly. But they don’t. Central does. And even in a down market, people have rewarded them by remaining loyal. I’ve been here at 2am and the place is still bustling.
The town in which they are based is in Poulsbo Washington and it has 8,000 residents. Nearby Bainbridge has another 24,000 residents. There are lots of factors and reasons why Central does so well, but the fundamental reason is that they care. Sounds hokey and easier said than demonstrated. But they do and people trust them for it. People believe that Central Market is concerned about their health and well being. There are dozens of tiny, tiny consumer-facing decisions that the owners have clearly thought about and decided in favor of better choices.
As a slight aside, there are many raving fans of Trader Joe’s market here in Washington and it is hard to fire a criticism at that fine market, but they have expressed to numerous people on the peninsulas here that there’s no gourmet or upscale market opportunity in this part of Washington. I think Central would prefer to keep that myth going.
The point of this post is that small decisions and continued good actions create trust. And trust creates loyal buyers.
Check out the new Facebook Group and Page about Central Market.
TJ McCue is an online content and demand generation consultant at Q4 Sales.