retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

In today’s times each of us are subject to a torrent of words and thoughts each and every day and most are forgotten as quickly as we read/hear/see them. So it’s hard to actually catch it when something truly profound comes out. Today, I want you to pay attention to a line Kevin wrote in MNB one week ago.

Harvey Hartman, founder of the Hartman Group, suggested that food retailers should begin acting as "curators," helping shoppers to make intelligent and relevant choices. "Those who understand consumers ... and understand food culture ... have the greatest opportunity to succeed with consumers," he said.

In that short paragraph, Hartman, who was speaking at the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Midwinter Executive Conference, completely summarized the changing nature of business - no matter what that business is. He was quoting a valuable study study into food culture shifts that was conducted by Daymon Worldwide and the Hartman Group, though the changes being described probably can be seen in other industries as well.

And it all comes down the word curator.

It has to be 40 or 50 years ago that FMI's leadership positioned the supermarket industry as serving as "the purchasing agent of the consumer.” It was a brilliant line, perfectly summing up the challenge that supermarkets (and all businesses) truly have. To sift through the choices and determine which are the ones that matter and which don’t to the specific audience served by that retailer.

In so many ways, that single line explained the challenges of efficiency and effectiveness that face every supermarket.

Now consider the difference in the words purchasing agent and curator and you get a clear sense of why business is so different today. Simply put, being efficient is no longer enough.

A curator has to make difficult choices too, including many of those made by a purchasing agent…and then a curator does more. A curator has to set the tone, create the environment with a sense of interpretation, history, culture and more. Curators of a museum, the traditional place for the term, have to figure out how to balance the traditional exhibits with the new, to advance the value of the institution through the knowledge it imparts to its visitors/customers.

Now think about that in the world of retail. A curator has to fundamentally understand the needs and culture of the shoppers in the store to make certain the correct products are on the shelf. Then a curator must go further. A curator has to add products and services while understanding culture, history, environment and more.

A curator needs to think about how those new products and experiences enhance that history. A curator needs to enhance the customer experience and educate the shopper to understand and make new choices. All of that is an increasingly important task in a world of constant information and opinions.

A curator provides guidance on nutrition, meal preparation, tastes, products and so much more. A curator even understands the same challenges face us as managers looking to build the best, most motivated staff possible.

(As a side note, this exact challenge is what we actually face here daily—or weekly, in my case—on MNB. Obviously you have countless choices about where to find industry/business news on line. As curators we try to enhance your experience with our choices, our commentary and even our discussion of movies, bottles of wine and restaurants.)

To paraphrase Lincoln, it is possible that the business world may little note nor long ponder this singular observation from the Daymon/Hartman study. But that would be a mistake, because in one word, it sums up the changing challenge of today’s world for any business.

What was once good enough is no longer even close. Efficiency is essential, but it’s only a piece of the puzzle. Today, like it or not, you have to do more. Much more.

Today you must enhance.

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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