NGA’s “Five Questions” is a regular feature that explores the insights of independent grocery operators. This week, Michael Violette, president and CEO of AG New England, shares his thoughts with us.
1. How is 2021 treating independent operators so far?
Things are still going quite well for the independent retailer. The majority of our customers are still running 10 percent to 20 percent ahead of their pre-pandemic sales volumes. Customers are still shopping the big-box stores, but I feel they are more comfortable shopping in our independent retailers stores on a more frequent basis. I feel people have been impressed with the quality, service and cleanliness that independent retailers provide.
2. Other than adapting to the post-pandemic “new normal,” what factors will be most important to our industry?
I feel the biggest factor facing our industry is the lack of available labor. Whether it is a retail store, warehouse selectors or truck drivers, there is a real labor shortage.
3. What are the most significant collaboration opportunities for independent operators in the months ahead?
We need to continually look for ways that we can work together to ensure that the playing field is fair. The pandemic truly illustrated how unbalanced the supply chain can be for independent retailers. In a number of instances, big-box stores were well stocked with products while the independent wholesalers had little to no product in our warehouses. We need to identify additional ways in which we can work together as we all face very similar challenges.
4. What are the most significant challenges?
As I said above, the greatest challenge will be with finding labor. I feel the cost of labor will also increase dramatically because of the labor shortage and the political movement to raise the minimum wage. I am very fearful that many of the changes the new administration is making may be harmful to small business. I am not sure that people are looking to what the long-term impacts will be from some of these changes.
5. How do you envision the year ahead unfolding for independent operators?
I believe it is going to be a very strong year for the independent retailers. I do not think there will be a lot of new store growth from the supermarket chains. I feel there will likely be some consolidation in the industry, which will likely benefit the independent retailers. I feel today’s consumer has a great deal of confidence in the independent retailers. Consumers have a great deal of confidence in the quality of the products they sell, as well the consistently superior customer service. Customers will remember all the support independent retailers provided their communities and for being there when the going got tough.