Meet Mariano's

Market builds customer base in Chicago area by stressing quality, fresh foodservice, wide array of global foods.

Erik J. Martin, CSP Correspondent

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“Mariano’s offers special low-price values across the store. Each fresh department offers at least one to three low-price value options, giving shoppers the impression that they don’t have to sacrifice their budget to take advantage of high-quality perishables,” he says. “They also have one of these values in every center-store aisle, giving consumers a reason to shop the center store intensively. ”
And the chain recognizes the importance of national-brand-equivalent private-label items, as well as economy store brands, to allow shoppers to choose budget-friendly options in different categories. 
“While upmarket retailers in other parts of the country often say that their shoppers don’t want store brands, Mariano’s recognizes that all shoppers—even affluent ones—are looking to save money where they can, and Mariano’s gives them the options to do so,” says Hauptman.
Actually, Mariano’s appeals less to particular demographic segments than shopping occasions, says Barry.
“They’re often driving people into the store who are after special occasions, be it a dinner party, birthday celebration or a romantic dinner for two on a Tuesday night,” Barry says. “There’s a subset of shoppers who are willing to spend more money because high-quality food is more important to them, true. But even millennials, who often have very little money to work with, are loyal Mariano’s shoppers. They’ve got a strong brand and a great loyal following.”

Capturing the Imagination

Mariano’s further stands out because it emphasizes “theater” better than other stores in the market, Hauptman says.
For example, at his local Mariano’s, “they have a permanent cooking demonstration area right near the entrance,” he says. “This makes a strong impression very early in the shopping flow. In the first minute of entering the store, shoppers will see something appealing and interesting.”
And there’s a clear expectation on the consumer’s behalf that Mariano’s staff know what they’re doing, Barry says. 
“There’s a level of expertise demonstrated that’s generalizable enough to the mainstream. That’s often a hard line to walk. They do a good job of simplifying fairly sophisticated departments and making them accessible to anybody,” she says.
What’s more, Mariano’s is exceptional at “telling really good stories,” Barry says.
“Storytelling is more than just offering words and signs. It’s creating the right context of what a food smells, looks, feels and tastes like. It requires a lot of different elements to tell that story, but Mariano’s does so through design, a clean environment and the right communications through their people,” she says.

Go With the Flow

Nothing in life is perfect—not even the seemingly perfect fresh-market grocery blueprint. Like its competitors, Mariano’s will undoubtedly tweak its approach and have to adapt to changing market conditions.
Hauptman, for example, believes Mariano’s will continue to evolve its design to improve traffic flow on the fresh side of the store by possibly incorporating wider aisles and checkout lanes and reconfigured displays that can comfortably accommodate more shoppers than in the chain’s early stores. 


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