I think you would agree there are far too many news stories about failed business and industry disasters. Here’s one that’s quite the opposite — Sprouts Farmer’s Market shares its timely success story with me via this email the other day:
This month, we hope you’ll allow us to use this space for a little navel-gazing — and we’re not talking about the orange kind.
You see, we’re in a bit of a self-congratulatory mood after opening our 50th store yesterday, in Sunnyvale, CA. That’s 50 stores in a little less than 8 years — including 19 in the last 377 days, a time period when most retailers have just been holding on for dear life.
It wasn’t written in the stars that this venture would be successful. The first Sprouts store opened in Chandler, AZ, in 2002 while the retail industry was still recovering from 9/11. Sales were slow at the beginning. Very slow. The delivery trucks weren’t always on time, and the refrigerators had a tendency to break down at the worst times. Besides, the world didn’t really need another supermarket. When the founders sat down and laid out their goals, they thought 10 stores in 10 years would be a great accomplishment.
And it would have been. But something happened along the way. Our stores got better. The demand for healthier foods skyrocketed. The recession forced all of us to start looking for value in everything we buy. And all of a sudden, 10 stores in 10 years seemed laughably modest.
Running a supermarket is a complicated business. You need good real estate, lots of money to build stores, and an intricate network of distribution, transportation and storage. You have to hire a lot of good people, and keep hiring because the turnover can be very high. There has to be plenty of refrigeration and freezer space, especially in the back rooms, and even then you are dealing with a perishable inventory that a Staples or a Home Depot cannot even imagine. There are scales and scanners that have to be calibrated, food safety and sanitation regulations that have to be complied with, and employment laws that are all too easy to run afoul of. You have to define your brand, and set your pricing right, and spend a lot of money on advertising. And even if you get all of that stuff right, you still have to deal with a dozen aggressive competitors in a 5-mile radius who would love to see you go out of business, and who won’t shed a tear if you do.
Fast forward to the present. Here we are with nearly 5,000 employees, thousands of fanatical fans on Facebook, and half a million customers a week shopping in our stores. Sprouts has become a recognized and respected brand, a leader in the natural food industry, and one of the better success stories in American retail this century. It’s been quite a ride. The people in Sunnyvale, CA — they just know that a cool new store opened up yesterday. But you, our loyal shoppers and biggest supporters, can appreciate what a milestone it really was.