I grew up in Northern Ontario (capitalized for my own political statement) in the 70s and 80s in a small city named North Bay. Look on any map and North Bay will be there, winking at you.
When I was a boy, my parents bought groceries from our neighborhood shopkeeper, Mr. Passmore, who had a small store at the corner of Ann and High Streets.
You could buy vegetables, meat and more or less anything you needed to keep your family fed. Mr. Passmore worked at the counter, and it wasn’t uncommon for customers to charge their groceries and pay for them at the end of the month.
In so many ways, Passmore’s was a typical small town store, and I’m sure some of you did your shopping or watched your parents do their shopping in similar stores across Canada or the U.S.
Then BIG showed up…
When they built the mall in North Bay, it killed downtown, and downtown has never come back. Big “super markets” took out the small grocery stores like Passmore’s who couldn’t compete, not when the super market had more variety and better prices.
The mall was exciting. There were all kinds of stores, an arcade, food court and a giant grocery store. These big grocery stores were exciting too. They had all kinds of merchandise, and while Passmore’s was quaint, the appeal of the big store was that it made shopping feel like an event.
Everything BIG is SMALL again…
Now Mr. Passmore’s grandsons, whose names are Reed and Ryan (I went to school with them) could re-open Passmore’s grocery store if they wanted to.
Because of the Internet and Fedex, they could stock all kinds of great stuff that the bigger stores don’t carry. They could order jam (for instance) from Poland and have it delivered via Fedex. They could order cheese from Italy, or they could source their own organic meat and vegetables from local farmers. They could stock wild meats like deer and moose, which are available easily enough and not carried by the big super stores.
Not only could they stock their store with different products, they would not be limited to their local market. Who is to say that they would not have clients in Toronto, who buy online and have their specialty items shipped to them in southern Ontario? This was impossible 35 years ago, but it’s simple today.
Passmore’s Grocery 2.0
What if they had a Facebook page to build some connection and community? Imagine videos showing how to prepare Mrs. Passmore’s famous chicken, or better yet, a recipe from another customer. How about cooking classes or wine tasting?
All of this was impossible and unexpected when I was a kid, but not anymore.
We have scale all screwed up now. Scale isn’t about getting bigger; scale is about getting connected. Scale is about mattering more to fewer, dedicated patrons.
In the 70s, Passmore’s couldn’t compete because of the price, but in the experience economy of 2014, Passmore’s would easily find clients willing to pay a premium for something special, something personal and something different.
Vive la révolution!