One of the joys of travelling through the USA – aside from the burgers, the BBQ, the chicken wings, the ice tea and the radio stations – is that there is always a retailer to visit that you’ve never seen before. The place is awash with regional chains both large and small and there is always something to admire and learn when visiting these smaller operators.

Flagstaff, AZ, presented a double whammy for me, as I was able to chalk up my first Bashas’ as well as my first Natural Grocers. I’ve discussed the latter on a former blog so now it is the turn of Bashas’, the historic retailer that operates solely (with the exception of a single outpost in New Mexico) in Arizona.

Arriving as immigrants from Libya in 1910, the Basha family ploughed various furrows in retail before opening their first eponymous unit in the 1930s, before expanding organically and through modest acquisitions to become a sizeable chain of 100+ stores. Despite setbacks such as a few confrontations with the UFCW and a swift passage through Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, Bashas’ lives to fight another day under the control of a third generation of Bashas.

As well as this main banner, the company also operates Bashas’ Dine stores (targeted at Navajo customers), AJ’s Fine Foods (gourmet foods) and Food City (aimed at Hispanic shoppers).

The Bashas’ units are fairly traditional grocery stores of a generally compact nature with not much in the way of GM. With a legacy steeped in Arizona, it is no great surprise to see ‘localness’ pervading the stores and their messaging: the overall strapline – Your Arizona Hometown Grocer – is a neat summation.

While the stores might not be massive, and while Bashas’ might lack the scale of a Kroger, there can be no doubt that they exude a certain appeal and charm as well as offering decent value for money. Produce is done very well indeed, with great displays, frequent references to the local and seasonal credentials of the products and a decent line in cross-merchandising too. Organic lines benefited from a clearly demarcated section, aiding navigability no end, while alongside produce sat a great self-serve bulk section of grains, cereals etc.

The main bulk of the store – devoted to ambient grocery – was complemented by some more than respectable service counters along the back wall. The value proposition was underpinned by a robust assortment of promotions, the provision of the Thank You loyalty scheme and its assorted benefits as well as by an extensive selection of private labels. Thanks to its membership of the Topco buying collective, Bashas’ sells a great range of PL ranges encompassing mainstream, economy, organic and pet that sit neatly among the branded range.

One real highlight was the beer section. With some nice merchandising touches – wooden display crates and neon aplenty – the range was fantastic and, unsurprisingly, included a great many local brews as well as the big national brands.

What really lingers from this store is the obvious pride in being a local business. The benefits to consumers of shopping with a local retailer are clearly spelled out: fresher produce and economic and employment benefits for local towns as well as the state of Arizona itself. Coupled with a great fresh proposition, good shop keeping and very cheerful customer service, Bashas’ localness is a great selling point that resonates extremely well. A very nice store indeed.

Bryan Roberts, Global Insights Director

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