Retail and the consumer are evolving, so the smarter we can analyze the data, clues and insights, the better we will be at leaving customers feeling wanted, respected and appreciated at every stage of the interaction. Competition is fierce in the supermarket sector and today I am having a Q&A with Lisbeth Dalgaard from Dalgaard Supermarket (MENY) in Hørsholm, who is doing an exceptional job.
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I started out studying French in Geneva and then I returned to Denmark with the intention to continue studying languages, but stopped rather quickly and took my education within the insurance business whilst working for an insurance company. After completing my Merkonom in Marketing, I moved into IT industry with IBM Denmark and studied HD whilst at IBM, and was also educated in Business Psychology. I am the Chairperson of DSK, Board & Executive committee member at Danish Chamber of Commerce, Board member KFI, Dansk Handelsblad (media) and Scanseason (seasonal merchandise), plus I also sit on a couple of advisory boards. On the personal front, I am married with 2 grown up sons and am really good at prioritizing my time between personal and professional activities.
Was your father the founder of Dalgaard Supermarket?
Yes, my father began in Frederiksberg as a grocery store owner in 1954 and then in 1962, he started Dalgaard in Hørsholm, which was in those days a small shop of 80m2. We became Dalgaard Supermarket in 1971 with an 800m2 store and have grown exponentially since then.
When did you take over from your father?
I started in the supermarket around the year 2000. In the beginning, it was a bit of a trial - neither my father nor I was certain, but after 3 months, I was sure that this was the correct decision. Before I started I discussed with myself about what was going to be the major challenges, e.g. negotiations with the suppliers, but actually, it was the people. The personnel, as it was a completely different culture from what I was used to at IBM. Here when we reached a goal the mentality was not to get excited if the reward was an additional training course. I had to adapt the different culture very quickly otherwise, I would have been out of business very quickly.
At what stage did you become part of the MENY group?
MENY used to be called SuperBest, and we joined the SuperBest Group in 2008. I was on the SuperBest development team trying to develop what we now have as MENY, but at that time many of the group members were not ready. We were very close to introducing a new kind of SuperBest but the majority of the small supermarket owners were against the reform. There were about 25 supermarkets (ca. 70% of the group turnover) that were very keen to reform, but as we have one vote per supermarket, regardless of the size, and the small supermarkets were reluctant to change as they thought that a price-focused supermarket would be best. Already then, there was a trend that either you are very discount focused or very specialized, there was no future in the middle ground, but they wanted to be there. Democracy prevailed and we remained in the “middle segment” for 2 more years, on hindsight, this was for the best as it proved to the small supermarkets that it did not work, and they came back and insisted that we develop what is now MENY.
Do you have a clear set of customers in mind when making decisions?
Not really, if I were to put a label on our customers, it would be “that they are conscious food lovers and foodies.” In the 90’s you categorized customers in blue, yellow, green, whatever, based on gender, income, occupation, etc., nowadays you cannot do that! A good example is a single father who has his children one week and then the next week he is alone and has a date, the buying behaviour in these two weeks for the “single father” is completely different. You cannot judge that by the customer appearance as to their buying power or preferences, it is much more about situation awareness and that is how we train our staff to remain open-minded and curious over for the customers. We focus on quality and personal relationships, as we believe that it is much easier to sell to customers when we have created trust. We are also very particular when we choose the products we put on our shelves.
When focusing on the customer journey throughout your supermarket, how do you create an experience that taps into your customers’ emotions and behaviours?
As human beings, we like to be seen and welcomed and that is something that we have really been training. It is very important that all our employees meet the customers, look into their eyes, smile and welcome them into our supermarket. Subconsciously saying I have seen you and I am here for you, and this something we are training on a continuous basis. Also in the front section of the shop, where the customer is met by the staff in the Post Office, kiosk or bakery who see all of the customers as they enter our store and they can smooth the path for their colleagues further in the shop by just smiling and welcoming them as they begin their journey.
Dalgaard Supermarket is stocked with great products, which are displayed in a warm and welcoming way, your staff are knowledgeable and the real-life shopping experience is still where sales are made. How do you think the online experience will transform the supermarket business in the future? And how will you incorporate digital at Dalgaard Supermarket?
In a way, it already has, if you look at how nemlig.com has been struggling and are showing huge deficits in their balance sheets, year after year. And they have invested over 1 billion DKK into their business, in the beginning, it was because they wanted to master online food sales, but the value of the company today, as they see it themselves is big data. It is the behaviour of the customers because I think that it will take some years to crack the code, if ever, for how to make money on delivering goods to people because it is more expensive. As you have to factor in the cost of the employee selecting the products, which are usually the job of the customer in the shop, and now, you have to pay someone to do that. So it is very difficult to get a break even or profit under these economic conditions.
We at Dalgaard are also building big data but in a personal way. We know that this customer has just come home from a vacation and you ask how was the holiday? You know that this customer has just had a grandchild, how’s your grandson? And that is much more important to people today, as we are very much alone on a day to day basis in front of our PC’s. It’s easy to buy non-food products online, as it’s easy and convenient, but people need people (connectivity). We have customers coming to the store and all they want is a hug (metaphorically) and that is what they get here. We, in our line of business, should focus on the fact that we have a huge advantage in being with people. So we have to create an environment where they like to come, where they meet nice people, where they are excited and surprised, where they can be advised by professionals, where they can taste new products. So I think that we have a future even though there will be a huge competition from the online stores. Many of my customer’s say we buy beer, cleaning products, all the heavy stuff because we can get that delivered to our door, but I want to buy the food myself. I want to smell the tomatoes, I want to feel the avocados, I want to speak to the butcher about how I should prepare this kind of meat, etc.
We are planning to use the digital platforms as an opportunity to be more specific in addressing the customers that today we have “this and that” and “if you come between this time and that time it will be ready”. Order online, and we will start working with “Your Local” and “Too Good To Go” to conquer food waste. It’s also a way to get in touch with customers to let them know that we have ready to eat meals in our store. We are using Facebook a lot and also our website, where we generate a lot of traffic and that is monitored every month to see where the users are going, and recipes are always popular, the weekly offers and then our tasting and our events.
I can see that you have collaborations with Post Nord, Emmerys and Peter Beier. How often are you hosting in-store events?
We have weekly events/tastings every Thursday, Friday and Saturday plus we have spontaneous tastings throughout the week, and we also have a lot of partners coming in to present, mainly new products. So long as we like it, we are not afraid to give a new producer or agent a chance to present their products in-store. They need to commit to making the introduction of the product in-store for 3 to 4 months because then we are sure that it will be a success both for them and ourselves. If we introduce a product via an introduction price, we will probably sell the product the first time, but we do not know whether they will come back to buy the product again. If they buy after they have tasted the product at full price, this is a proper test, and then we know that they will probably come back, so this is how we introduce new products via tastings.
Then we have special events, typically around wine - where we invite winemakers to DK and then we have a partnership with some of the local restaurants e.g. some in Rungsted Harbour, Kokkedal Slot, Søhuset in Scion (DTU) and then we have a dinner where the chef will incorporate a menu that compliments the wine. We have had flower arrangement courses with our florist and we have also had a cheese and wine travel (5 evenings), where we started out with cheese & wine from Italy, and then from Spain, then to UK, DK and finally the Nordics.
At what stage do you share your vision for the future with your staff?
When we are ready! Many of the new ideas we work on together, e.g. launching of new products. When we started out with the “Free Off range” (e.g. lactose-free, gluten-free, etc.) we had to make sure that we understood the concept before we went out to the customers. So we do a lot of training ahead and when we think that we are ready we launch. This one of the things that I learnt whilst at IBM that you have to test things beforehand before you go out to the clients. Then again I am very open to inputs, and my employees are always free to come and have an open and frank conversation.
Are you the go-to person or is it middle managers who the shop floor would approach?
I am on the shop floor mainly on Fridays and Saturdays, but all my employees are aware that I am also a resource of 2 hands and 2 feet, so if they need my help, they just call for it - my door is always open, so just come.
What measurement tools do you use to ensure that your staff act consistently with the stated values?
We don’t have any specific measurement tools, but we use our staff Facebook group, where we nominate each other or just praise - “I have a colleague and he/she did this or that and it was very good”. And we use some of this feedback directly and then once a month we have a morning meeting with the leader group where we speak about the nominees and we acknowledge the best one with a reward. The most important is the peer to peer recognition!
Do you have a training program to support your employees? And how do you obtain feedback from them?
We are very open to employees wishes for education, so if an employee comes to me and says they would like to improve their skills in a specific area, I will try to see if we can find a course, person or something that can train that particular skill set. We are planning to have more IT training over the next couple of months. We have had the management group on trips to London together with ZBC (Zealand Business College), as they have access to managers in some of the top retailers in London and we can learn from all types of retail. We are currently planning another trip for September, as it’s important to see something that you haven’t seen before and because of the volume of customers in London, the retailers have to make their ideas work. And these best practices I share with a handful of colleagues who I debate ideas with as they are facing similar successes and difficulties.
What systems do you have in place to measure, reward and reinforce desired behaviours?
When we recognise a member of the team who is doing a really good job of welcoming, smiling and acknowledging the customer, we praise the behaviour in front of their colleagues. And we encourage this member of the staff to take responsibility for spreading the goodwill amongst the team.
What methods do you use in order to connect your employees to the Dalgaard Supermarket vision and mission?
We use our employee Facebook group and we have weekly management meetings, and then the managers have departmental meetings, so we have many opportunities to review and control that we are on track. There are always GOALS, not necessarily economic goals and we visit them every 2 months to see if we are doing the right things or have we decided to grow in an area where the customers are not ready and if so, we stop using the resources there and change direction.
Every week there are special offers available to all MENY customers in Denmark, so there is someone making the decision of what should be discounted this week in Dalgaard Supermarket?
We follow the MENY lead and do not spend a lot of resources on it. We also make our own weekly special offers in our local newspaper, which is much more focused on our customers' wants and needs. Facebook followers are also presented with offers. There is no real contradiction between MENY and Dalgaard Supermarket, our tagline is “The Meal Starts Here” and MENY’s tagline is “We Care For Food”.
Does the MENY HQ have systems in place to measure how you deliver on these promises or is that left to the individual supermarket?
Dalgaard Supermarket is run independently, but twice a year MENY run NPS Scorecard and of course, they look at all of the results, but we get our own results and we act on them.
What are you doing to help all your employees to understand their role in delivering on these promises?
When we started out I spoke a lot about the MENY values and Dalgaard Supermarket values and how they actually supported each other. As before we started the MENY brand there were not any corporate values as such, the MENY brand values were good and we could use them.
Many thanks Lisbeth for taking the time for this interview, I am truly grateful. I can conclude that at Dalgaard Supermarket decisions are made through the customers' eyes and this ensures that they have the customers’ best interest in mind. Lisbeth Dalgaard appears to be an empathic leader and she is able to tell the right story and consistently match that story to the way Dalgaard Supermarket delivers the shopping experience. Making every customer visit count is amazing and significantly enhances loyalty, bringing customers together with a sense of community which is also socially powerful. For sure, there are lots of supermarkets that are run by Excel spreadsheet management teams with no thought about the customer, where the owners are just doing the bare minimum to follow the brand manual and only compete on price. Dalgaard Supermarket is by far the best supermarket I have seen in Denmark and hopefully one of many elite examples of business excellence within the supermarket sector.