I Love What This Small Grocery Store Is Doing To Attract Customers

Aaron Hoos

It’s a common topic of discussion among business owners that bricks-and-mortar stores are dying… as if the very presence and ubiquity of the internet is leading to the inevitable demise of in-person shopping.

And maybe that’s a possibility in the future… for some stores… but I don’t see it as the sweeping inevitability that people claim.

In-person shopping is changing, not going away. I think that’s a reason why one of my most popular blog posts is 14 Ways That Retailers Can Embrace Showrooming… because people are going to stores to try things out before buying them online.

And as a disclaimer, I’m no different: I like shopping in some stores (bookstores, clothing stores, coffee shops, unique/handcraft stores) and HATE shopping in others (grocery stores, home renovations stores). I frequently buy from Staples and have it shipped to my house even though I can literally see a Staples from my homeoffice window. And I prefer shopping online at Rona (the Canadian version of The Home Depot or Lowes) versus going into that cavernous and confusing store.

But that doesn’t mean I think bricks-and-mortar stores are dead. I just think the nature of how people use them is changing, and stores need to step up to remain relevant to consumers.

This Company Is Doing It Right

Take a local company that is doing some interesting things to address this: Hoa An Market. They are an Asian grocery store with a few challenges facing them: they’re tucked away off the beaten path in my city… and just a 2 minute walk from Safeway, and a 10 minute drive from several big box grocery stores and at least 3 other Asian grocery stores that I know of.

How do they get the word out to prospective clients? How do they compete with all the other general and Asian-specific grocery stores within a 10 minute drive? How do they create customer loyalty and repeat business?

There are a few reasons, including their online presence, especially on Facebook, which is pretty good; their selection and prices are competitive; and, they are a supplier of some ingredients to all the Asian restaurants in town.

But the thing they really excel at is their cooking classes. Yes, I realize that grocery stores offering cooking classes is not a new concept, but it’s just not done enough, and I don’t see it done at this scale (to this many people as consistently).

Hoa An Market’s cooking classes are dialed in. They have 2-3 popular classes each week on a range of cooking topics, typically cooking a familiar Asian dish.

The classes have about 20 people in them, they are affordable ($20 per person and you finish the class eating a meal together), they are fun, and they frequently sell out.

Last month I attended my first cooking class at Hoa An Market, where they taught us to make a classic Asian noodle dish. The lesson started at 6:45 and went until about 8:30 or so. The instructor taught us the main dish, with multiple options, and then a few side dishes too. She had volunteers take part in the process and there was plenty of opportunity to smell or taste the food. At the end, the food was laid out and we each piled our plates buffet-style and ate together.

Aaron Hoos

This simple strategy is so brilliant; I don’t know why more stores (not just grocery stores) don’t do it.

The math tells me that it makes financial sense: 20 people x $20 each x 3 sold-out classes each week is $1200 for about 6 hours of presenting (and food costs, of course).

Plus, at least half of the people stayed and shopped, with several of us buying things used during the class.

Plus, many of the people were repeat attendees, which means we are all more profitable customers (versus brand new customers).

Plus, they advertise their classes on their Facebook page (which probably means I’ve liked their page), and I used my email to sign up and to get the recipes on the following day (which means they can market to me via email).

Not Just For Grocery Stores

I can imagine other store owners thinking in frustration about how to showcase their goods to a captive audience. THIS IS IT! This same principle can be adopted by other grocery stores and, in fact by many other brick-and-mortar businesses.

  • Can a local stationery store teach watercolors, calligraphy, or hold writing workshops?
  • Can a local electronics store teach the latest in tech, how to hook up their stereos, hidden features that people don’t know how to use in their equipment, or what those different aspect ratios actually do?
  • Can a local mechanic teach how to quickly understand what sounds a car makes when things aren’t working properly, or how to extend the working life of your car?
  • Can a local hairdresser teach the latest hairstyling trends and how to do them yourself at home?
  • Can a local clothing store teach the latest in fashion and how to mix and match existing wardrobe pieces to look fashionable?

I’m just scratching the surface. I think there are many opportunities for a bricks-and-mortar store to extend into teaching, because I don’t think bricks-and-mortar shopping is going away; rather, I think it will only thrive if it turns into an experience and starts capturing eyeballs and wallets in a different way.

Published by Aaron Hoos

Aaron Hoos is a writer, strategist, and investor who builds and optimizes profitable sales funnels. He is the author of The Sales Funnel Bible and other books.