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Progressive Grocer and the National Grocers Association (NGA) yesterday launched a social networking community specifically for independent grocers, where they can learn from their most valuable resources — each other.
Called the Independent Grocer Network (IGN), the online community was created to empower its members to discover and share actionable insights unique to the independent grocer. Members can gather with peers to learn from each other by sharing retail-specific best practices, addressing real-world challenges and engaging in ongoing discussions with a depth and breadth unavailable anywhere else.
“We learned from our executive roundtables that retailers want the opportunity to connect directly with their peers on issues that are important to them,” said Joseph Tarnowski, Progressive Grocer Senior Editor and manager of the network. “However, traditional media — even typical online media — doesn’t provide this direct connection, and in-person events don’t have the frequency for regular communication. With the Independent Grocer Network, they can engage each other 24/7.”
“This network is essential for the industry, as the need for peer-to-peer trading partner communication has never been so critical,” noted NGA EVP Frank DiPasquale. “As the retail environment continues to evolve and is impacted by changing consumer demographics and federal and regulatory issues, independent retailers need a forum to share such issues, find educational tools and materials, and discover new resources. This private platform is the ideal setup for this dialogue.”
While a business-to-business social network is unique in itself, what will truly set the Independent Grocer Network apart from other online business communities is its close moderation by its network manager. “Many social networks I see tend to forget about the ‘social’ aspect of the platform,” said Tarnowski. “They just build the site and expect it to manage itself, and are surprised when it turns into a job-posting or product announcement message board. While the platform enables direct communication of its members, it still has to be moderated if it’s going to deliver value to the membership. And it won’t exist solely online — I’ll be in touch with members regularly via phone calls and in person at N.G.A.’s events.”
Tarnowski will manage the network on tasks such as content development — including content exclusive to the network — moderating discussions and holding live chats on topics of members’ choosing, as well as assisting members in developing their own content.
“As an independent retailer, it would be invaluable to have a resource like the Independent Grocer Network,” said Don Fallon, general manager of Ring Bros. Marketplace, a community-based independent in South Dennis, Mass. “We face extraordinary challenges not only in this economy, but also with ordinary day-to-day operations as well. The opinions and advice that a community of peers would provide could save a retailer from making costly mistakes. And having a centralized resource where that knowledge is concentrated in one place would save time and resources — two things independent grocers never have enough of.”
In addition to independent grocers, the network’s exclusive membership will also include the wholesalers that serve them.
“I have participated in many retailer/wholesaler roundtables and share groups, and working with my peers on common interests and challenges creates a network of highly functional leaders to help solve even the most difficult of issues and stay up to date on grocery industry subjects,” said Mike Brown, general manager, retail technology, at Commerce, Calif.-based Unified Grocers. “The Independent Grocer Network would provide a forum for such sharing, something that is lacking in the industry. What’s more, it would be available 24/7, unlike in-person forums and events.
“Most important,” added Brown, “it would be a platform retailers and wholesalers can truly call their own, since we’d have the ability to add our own content and connect with those peers who share common interests.”
Here are just some of the IGN’s features available only to members:
—Blogs can be posted by members about topics and issues relevant to them and other members, from details of a store visit to comments about industry news
—Discussion Forums are where members can go to find solutions to their real-world problems, and seek the opinions and insights of their peers. For convenience, the forums are segmented by topics such as technology, logistics and nonfoods
—Category- and Function-specific Share Groups, with their own blogs and forums, enable retailer-members to zero in on what is most relevant to them
—An Events Calendar puts comprehensive and detailed information on industry events at members’ fingertips
—Multimedia Sections allow members to search and share retail-relevant photos and videos
—A Member Profile Page, available to every member, includes details about your company and the roles you play in its success, as well as references to your activity on the site, such as the posts and comments you contribute and which groups you belong to. Your profile page helps other retailers with similar interests connect with you
Additionally, Phil Lempert will feature his latest “Hits & Misses” and “The Lempert Report” videos, as well as his own group in which members can interact with the Supermarket Guru.
While the site will feature regular content from Progressive Grocer, the NGA and Phil Lempert, the most important component of the Independent Grocer Network is the valuable content generated by its retailer-members.