retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Like many of you I was surprised to read the news about Jenni Rivera last week. The reason is simple: I never once heard of her until her plane went missing in Mexico.

I’m betting many of you felt the same. To most of us, the name Jenni Rivera meant absolutely nothing. To me (and maybe to you) Rivera might have been from Mars, the 17th century or the Twilight Zone. I had no idea she was from the Los Angeles area, sold more than 15 million CDs and was featured on television in the US and Mexico.

In short, she was from our world and another world at the same time and that’s a great reminder of the incredible complexity of the population, competition and marketing today. And here’s the biggest challenge of all: the situation is going to get even more complex and fast.

We shouldn’t be surprised because this has happened before. In 1995, Selena Quintanilla-Perez was a young woman unknown to many of us when she was shot to death. Except Selena wasn’t unknown. She was an incredibly popular Tejano singer who packed arenas throughout the Southwest. Her life was captured in the wonderful biopic Selena that lays out the challenge of the many worlds that exist side-by-side in the US.

In one scene, a mall saleswoman condescendingly pushes Selena out of her store only to watch a mob of adoring fans surrounded the singer. In that one scene we get the reminder that the world we know isn’t the only world out there. (No surprise here: This scene and Selena’s story are highlighted in The Big Picture: Essential Lessons from the Movies, the book I co-authored with Kevin.)

We cannot possibly know all these worlds. None of us can keep track of all the trends, all the population groups and all the world of “superstars.” Frankly, we have too much to do. Everyone has 1,000 cable stations streaming into their homes, 950 of which we will never ever see. No one has time the time or reason to stay current on "Say Yes to the Dress," countless ESPN offerings and Spanish language telenovelas.

But we have to understand that these multiple worlds are out there and that they grow more important everyday.

For the past few months I’ve been trying frantically to improve my Spanish skills because of a new project I have in Latin America. To challenge myself, I visit Hispanic stores like Mega Market International in Rockville, Maryland.

The store is, to put it simply, another world. Inside the crowded and very busy supermarket I see products and foods I’ve never seen before. There are signs, music and chatter that challenge my limited Spanish skills. It isn’t a great store. It should be better lit, cleaner and better organized. Yet, it is effective.

Here’s the key: It is filled with shoppers doing what shoppers always do: finding products to feed themselves and their families. Just like at any supermarket.

What blows me away is that this store is less than six miles from my home and within half a mile of many stores my wife and I use. It might as well be another planet far from the people I see at the gym, stores and supermarkets I frequent. To get to Mega I have to figuratively and literally cross a lot of streets. These are crossings that lots of us need to make.

Last Thursday Bloomberg reported new estimates that minority children will outnumber whites under the age of 18 in 2019. By 2043 the entire population of minorities will combined outnumber the white population in the US. In other words, the time is coming when Mega Supermarket may be a far more powerful competitor than the nearby Giant, Whole Foods, Harris-Teeter and Shoppers Food Warehouse.

That is, unless all those operators and the suppliers who work with them start crossing into that other world to meet and see these new shoppers and start understanding their needs and habits…and even their love of Jenni Rivera.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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