The other day we found out that the Bloom stores in the area would be converted to their parent line, Food Lion.
I might have been more interested in this than usual because I saw a presentation on Bloom years ago, when they first opened up in Charlotte. I don’t remember who presented this, but I do remember her talking about Purple Cows. This was my introduction to Seth Godin, who has become a very favorite author of mine, as well as a marketing genius. Seth’s writing has influenced so much of my knowledge of today’s marketing and if you have an inkling of interest in marketing, you must read Seth.
Here’s what I remember from this presentation. Food Lion decided to enter the upscale market. They were going to be different, a purple cow. They were going to be a totally different shopping experience. You would have a special shopping cart, where you could keep your different types of groceries from touching each other. You would have an amazing wine selection. You would have special kiosks that you could locate items, or look up food with which you might not be familiar and you could even get recipes. There would be nice lighting and the store would be arranged differently. It would be more ergonomic and friendly and the selection would be top notch.
Sounds like a slam dunk, doesn’t it? So why did they fail? I don’t have any inside information nor have I looked at any statistics or the like, but I can tell you what I observed as a designer and a consumer.
When I lived in Easley, I happily shopped at the Publix. They had great meat selection, solid produce, a nice generic line (that the packaging won design awards) and just about everything I needed. We knew the people that worked there and they were always wonderful. I really didn’t know what to expect when we moved, but we ended up shopping at two stores: Ingles and Bloom. I was pleasantly thrilled with the Ingles. The produce selection is very good, with lots of organic options (including generic organic canned goods, wow), the dairy selection is good, they sell a lot of local produces (including the locally raised bison) the prices are nice and the service is solid. And I even found a friend on twitter … the InglesDietitian, which started following me after I tweeted a few times about visiting Ingles. She’s great, full of advice and recipes and tips and she does a nice job on their Facebook page too. In fact, when I bought that bison meat, I had to ask where it was and I told the person who helped me find it I’d heard about it from their dietitian, who had tweeted about it. (They looked at me like I was nuts.)
I was not pleasantly thrilled with the Bloom. I couldn’t find anything, for starters. And it was smaller than the Ingles and the Publix, which meant the selection was not as good. I had a friend point out that the generic line wasn’t so great either; frequently they contained high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils. The produce was nicely displayed and good, but there was less of it and less selection than the Ingles. (That said, they do carry my husband’s favorite brand of apple cider.) The meat was better and the seafood selection was great. But it wasn’t worth the trip. Those kiosks didn’t really find food that they actually had in the store. There really was little they carried at Bloom that I couldn’t get at any other grocery store. And I never saw those special shopping carts either.
So my conclusion was that Bloom opted for the surface, cutesy things. But they never executed. Oh sure, it’s cute to put on the nametags “Ask me about <fill in the blank.>” But what I’d rather have is more than one open line. Or have the bag boys know where the groceries are. And no one from Bloom ever responded to anything I would tweet about them. (To be fair, I didn’t tweet that much and when I did, it was that the Chobani yogurt was more expensive at Bloom.) In the end, it wasn’t really a different kind of grocery store at all.
I know the grocery store market can be pretty crowded. There’s a lot of folks out there doing it well. But if you’re going to advertise yourself a different, you damn well better be different. Or at least the best at what you do. It doesn’t take long for people to learn that it’s got to be more than good bricks and mortar. You got to back it up with people and product.
What do you think? Have you had a different kind of experience with Bloom? Am I too rough on them?