Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mollie Stone's Markets Takes Next Step in its Social Media Journey By Hiring First In-House Manager

Two very different ways to drive business. But both are social: One of the many ways Mollie Stone's Markets uses its Facebook, Twitter and YouTube sites is as a way to help "drive" food and grocery shoppers into its nine stores in the San Francisco Bay Area. The grocer also uses stickers like the one pictured above, which it put in the window of its newest store in San Francisco's Castro district in January 2011 in advance of the store's opening in March, to alert and "drive" customer traffic to its social media sites...

But Mollie Stone's doesn't rely on social media alone to "drive" business, particularly not in the case of its three stores in San Francisco. Instead, the grocer literally drives shoppers who live anywhere in the city to the stores, picking them up at home and returning them back with their groceries in tow, in its Mollie Bus (pictured above at the March 9 grand opening of its newest store in San Francisco's Castro District), as long as the customers buy at least $30 worth of groceries.

Food & Grocery Retailing in the 21rst Century: Social Media

Social media is for people of all shapes, sizes and ages (although not too young).

It's also something grocers of all sizes - not just the big chains - should be taking advantage of because in our experience and analysis it offers itself up to smaller (and not so small) regional grocery chains and independents as a potential "great equalizer" in their ever-increasing challenge of competing against the growing power of nationally focused chains like Walmart Stores, Target, Safeway, Supervalu, Inc., Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe's and numerous others, which continue to spread throughout the U.S., opening new stores in existing markets as well as launching into new ones.

Regardless if the operation is a chain of 250, 100, 50, five or just a single store, a grocer can create an account on Facebook and Twitter for zero cost, for example, and find someone with some talent and experience in using social media to coordinate and be in charge of it. From there, the grocer has a potentially whole new world of opportunity opened up to it to talk with customers and potential customers, to create added awareness, promote, and most of all to build, enhance and strengthen customer relationships as part of its overall customer service experience and process.

We use "potentially" above for a very good reason: Social media alone isn't a panacea for grocers, regardless of size. Instead it's a potentially powerful platform that if used regularly and used well - like a plant it must be given regular attention and care - can over time become a powerful communications and customer relationship-building tool for grocers of all sizes, along with that potentially "great equalizer" for smaller chains and independents.

Mollie Stone's social media journey

One independent grocer that's recognized both the overall potential power as well as the "great equalizer" aspect of social media is Mill Valley, California-based Mollie Stone's Markets, which operates nine stores in the San Francisco Bay Area and is majority-owned by partners Mike Stone and Dave Bennett.

Mollie Stone's joined the social media world in late 2010 (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube sites) with some very important help from San Francisco, California-based Reasonate Social Media, which was founded by Eric Harr, who's also the CEO of the firm.

Harr and his team took a comprehensive approach with Mollie Stone's Markets' in partnership with co-owner Dave Bennett, who splits the running of the food and grocery chain with Mike Stone, his partner of  25 years, having founded Mollie Stone's together in 1985.

Harr, Bennett and Stone brought all of Mollie Stone's headquarters office employees together - buyers and merchandisers, finance folks, human resources people and more - together for a number of social media training sessions, so that not only would the process be department and company-wide, but also because they realized that in order to make social media an integrated part of the grocer's overall customer service, marketing and community outreach efforts it had to be something shared by everybody, instead of ending up as a social media ghetto at the company, which often is the case at organizations of all kinds.

Mollie Stone's Markets is now humming on multiple cyber-cylinders when it comes to social media - and most importantly, in our analysis, using it as an integrated part of its overall operations, marketing and customer service functions, which even includes signs in the stores and on store windows inviting shoppers to join the grocer on Twitter and Facebook, for example.

Those multiple cyber-cylinders include very active Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare sites and campaigns, along with active and regular participation on review sites like Yelp, in which Mollie Stone's responds to both criticism and praise (and in-between) of its stores, including aspects like product pricing and customer service.

Reasonate Social Media, which has operated Mollie Stone's various social media sites as part of its consulting relationship with the grocery chain until now, also encouraged co-owner Dave Bennett to step out and become the "face" of Mollie Stone's Markets by appearing in a few videos (like the one above) the firm has produced for the grocery chain, which feature Bennett, who's latest venture, along with partner and fellow wingman Mike Stone, is a specialty foods brand, "Mike and Dave's," the first product being Mike & Dave's Wing Sauce, which we wrote about here in May and again in June.

Elizabeth Milks hired as in-house social media manager

Mollie Stone's Markets has now taken a next big big step in its social media evolutionary process, hiring its first-ever social media project manager, Elizabeth Milks, who is working in-house at the grocer's headquarters in Mill Valley, California (Marin County) and will be using that day-to-day vantage point to increase the amount and variety of social media content Mollie Stone's produces, and to do so in a real time way.

The grocer and Reasonate Social Media are currently in the process of transitioning the day-to-day social media tasks and responsibilities from the firm to in-house at Mollie Stone's Markets, Elizabeth Milks told Fresh & Easy Buzz yesterday.

Mollie Stone's Markets has not publicly announced the hiring of its new social media project manager. Therefore you're reading it here first.

Ms. Milks, who graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 2006 with a BA Degree in Public Health, worked as a marketing assistant (2008-2011) for VR Research, which is a public records-oriented research firm in Oakland, California. Prior to that she worked in the legal services industry in the Bay Area, following graduation from U.S. Berkeley.

Grocers and social media

Ms. Milks starts her new position at Mollie Stone's with a good base.

For example, Bennett, the chain's head grocery and produce buyers, and a number of other employees regularly use social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, having established their own accounts.

Additionally, the fact  Reasonate Social Media worked so closely with Mollie Stone's on a chainwide basis is also a big plus because there exists a strong buy-in for the use of social media throughout the grocery chain, from it's headquarters office to the stores, based on our reporting, research and answers we've received from Dave Bennet, Eric Harr and others at the chain.

Such buy-ins are key in order for a grocer to make social media more than a mere promotional vehicle, instead using it as part of the overall customer-relationship building experience, which includes face-to-face interaction where it counts most, in the stores, enhanced by using social media as a cyber-storefront of sorts, harnessing the potential power of many along with the immediacy factor.

For example, think about product recalls in terms of the power of the immediacy factor. Before Twitter or Facebook, a grocer really had no way to let customers know that the FDA or USDA were recalling this or that product for this or that reason except to post signs in all of its stores and alerting the local media, hoping they old report something about it sooner rather than later.

But today, a grocer's social media coordinator can go on Facebook and Twitter, along with a host of other sites, and communicate to followers that a food product has been recalled literally the moment it's found out. There's no longer a need to rely on third parties like the media. Instead the grocer can communicate directly to its followers (the power of many) on the social media sites. And nearly always those followers will tell others using their Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and other social media sites, which harnesses the power of many even further.

This way sound simple (or "so what") because we're already so used to social media despite its young age. But this ability to communicate immediately and directly is revolutionary for food retailers, as are many of the other ways in which social media can be harnessed by grocers who put an effort into doing so. And effort is required, because like those plants, which need attention, care and watering - along with re-potting at times - so too does the use of social media by grocers.

Mollie Stone's Markets is a good example of how grocer's of any size - but particularly those regional chains and independents we mentioned at the start of this story because of the potential "great equalizer" effect - can, if they make a commitment to it, harness the low-cost, high-impact power of social media and use it in an integrated way to enhance what they are already doing at store-level, along with using it to open new doors that previously didn't exist for food and grocery retailers in the pre-cyberspace and pre-social media eras, which seems like it was ages ago but really was only a few years ago, particularly in the case of social media.

Related Stories

June 23, 2011: Mollie Stone's Markets' Owners' Eponymous Mike & Dave's Wing Sauce Grows Display Wings

May 16, 2011: 'Wing Man-to-Wing Man' - Mollie Stone's Markets' 'Mike & Dave' Create, Set to Launch 'Personal Brand' Wing Sauce

March 7, 2011: Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, Superior Grocers, Mollie Stone's All Opening New Stores in California Wednesday

March 1, 2011: Mollie Stone's Markets Will Open its New Store in San Francisco's Castro District On March 9

February 17, 2011: Mollie Stone's Markets Planning to Open Newest Store in San Francisco First Week in March

January 13, 2011: Mollie Stone's Markets Taking Over Closed 18th Street Delano's IGA Market in San Francisco's Castro District

January 28, 2011: Mollie Stone's Markets Confirms Our January 13 Report; Announces New San Francisco Store Via Twitter & Facebook

November 30, 2010: DeLano's IGA Markets Closing Five Stores in San Francisco & Marin County; Fairfax, Davis Units to Remain Open (For Now)

November 29, 2010: Veteran Grocer Harley DeLano's 'DeLano IGA Markets' Chain On the Verge of Closure in San Francisco Bay Area

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