Making an Impression In-Store…. A Tale of Two Stores.

I very rarely write about a personal shopping experience.  In this particular instance, it has been fascinating watching a community react to two different long-time grocery stores, located in the same location and considerable changes to each.

I had the opportunity to watch my two main local grocery stores undergo major transformations over the year and experience up front and personally, the reaction of the community, as well as my own reaction as a regular shopper to both stores.

In my local town of Bolton, Ontario, we have had a Zehrs store for many, many years.  It was a great store with lots of variety, great customer service and is located on the main stretch in our town.  Subsequently, there was a fabulous independent grocery store located literally in the same parking lot of the large Zehrs store.  It had been providing amazing service, an incredible product assortment and the fresh produce and meat counter, could not be beat!  It has been a major staple for many in our town.  Many of us customers, all knew the owner of the store, as he would be found often inspecting the produce in the store, to ensure it was the best!

Both of these stores went through major transformations over the last year …here is where our story gets interesting.

The two grocery stores have done business side by side for many years and have both been successful, as they cater to different types of customers and many customers, would go to both stores, go for different reasons.   In 2023 the independent grocery store was acquired by one of the larger well known food chains.

As the evolution of this change took place, many of the communities’ favourite products, variety and quality of produce began to change.  Unfortunately, if you are an avid reader of the local Facebook and Instagram groups in this town, this was not a positive change for this local favourite.

In-store prepared meals were changed to private label products, the produce quality changed and brands of products the store provided previously, were no longer on the shelf.  Prices seemed to increase, yet the variety and the quality did not.  Feedback from the community was not favourable for this once loved community favourite.

On the other side of the parking lot, a sign went up in the Fall of 2023 that the long standing Zehrs store would be closed in October and would reopen in December as a Fortinos.  During the closure the once independent store, saw increases in sales as the large Zehrs store was closed.  Once again, the feedback from the community was not favourable, as their once favourite store had changed so substantially.

The opening of the new Fortinos came mid December and what an experience.  This store did not skip a beat when it came to all of the needs of this community.

  • A huge fresh prepared counter, including pizza, coffee bar, noodle bar and sit-down restaurant area in the store.
  • A seafood counter and a meat counter with tonnes of variety.
  • Charceuterie section, with a huge variety of meats and cheeses and the fresh produce section seemed much larger, and the produce was fresh and impeccably stocked and displayed.
  • The natural health section had increased, the pharmacy updated. A new aisle with wine and beer, with a good selection of both Ontario and imported.
  • An incredible bakery, an in-store Montreal bagel oven and fresh bread made in the store.
  • The check out area was very large, very inviting, and the self check-out section had decreased from the previous concept.
  • A beautiful flower shop on the way out put the icing on the cake. Feedback has been so positive, as this store provides a shopping experience.  The colours, the modern look, feel, and flow of the store, all done to perfection.

Visiting the different areas of the store, to see new products, fresh produce, meats, bakery items, has made this store a huge shopping experience.

Let’s not forget the employees.  Easy to find in-store, all very happy to help and available you need them.  Many people in the area have commented that they can’t believe we have such a beautiful store in our local neighbourhood.

The items some customers lost in the small independent, are now available at the Fortinos, and the store still continues to provide the huge variety and assortment the previous Zehrs store provided.  Now don’t get me wrong, was there negative talk.  Of course, there was.  Price is always first and foremost for both of these stores.  The good news about that is, those that prefer discount grocery, a Food Basics is just down the street.

As a shopper, I feel badly for the Independent that was acquired.  I do believe that if they were still independently owned, they would be able to compete against the new Fortinos as the store in its old concept was an experience in itself.  The loyal customers would continue to shop at that store.

The changes, however, to this store to standardize it, I believe will be its demise in our community.  As for the Fortinos, I congratulate them on an incredible customer experience.  I have several friends and neighbours that have said to me that they enjoy grocery shopping again.  That in of itself, reiterates to me that we as consumers want an experience when we shop and this store from my local town tells that perfectly!

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