Everyone tried to tell David Zahlan how to run Alexanders in 2020… but he ignored them all and sales boomed

David Zahlan Alexanders Fruit Market

The Alexanders Fruit Market Oakleigh team.

I say it a lot, but I’ll say it again, the fresh produce space is stuck in the 1980s.

So many wholesalers and retailers think that advertising in the newspaper and having a big bloke up the front shouting prices at customers passing by is the way to market fruit and veg in the 21st century.

It isn’t. We live in a technological, always-on, social-media world. None of that cuts it anymore.

I get no shortage of advice from people telling me how I should run Alexanders. 

In 2020, when things were tougher, I ignored it all. 

I ignored it all and sales on baskets went from an average of $18 to $25 and beyond. 

Open longer hours

If I had a dollar for every time I heard this one, I’d be out of the fruit game for good!

So many people told me to open seven days a week with longer hours.

I didn’t. Alexanders runs three-and-a-half days a week. We don’t need to be physically open; our social media presence is 24/7.

We’re engaging with our customers even when our doors aren’t open.

Expand product lines

Alexanders Fruit Market is a fruit market, not a supermarket. We concentrate on what we know so we can deliver the best.

During COVID-19, we noticed young families are getting excited about fruit and veg. They wanted to know more. Where is it from? What are the varieties? What does it taste like?

There wasn’t that interest level a few years ago.

Consolidating our knowledge rather than diluting it helped us increase sales.

Screw your suppliers

The fruit and veg world is a dog-eat-dog place.

Even though we have rivalries, and let’s say, disagreements, from time to time, we’re all friendly and talk over coffee.

Screwing my suppliers for a short-term special makes no sense in a long-term strategy. I want to work with suppliers, giving their brand a platform.

Fresh produce is in competition with long-life grocery, confectionery and junk food, so screwing suppliers is cutting off our noses to spite our faces.

Bigger discounts

I don’t have to tell you that margins in fresh produce are razor-thin.

By my calculations, spending $10,000 to buy a product and another $5,000 in logistics, marketing, wages, storage, et cetera, and making $10,500 is a waste of $4,500. That’s not good business.

Through education and branding, our sales are better than ever. People want and enjoy eating healthy, and the kids are looking for it.

It’s a no brainer. You just have to market and target, brand and educate.

Can you put a price on health? You sort of can, and a lot of people are willing to pay a little extra for it.

Make deliveries

We’ve had to put up a bot on Facebook to tell people we don’t make deliveries, because we get asked so often.

We never have, and we never will.

That’s partly because we wanted to make Alexanders a destination during the lockdown.

There wasn’t much going on during lockdown, but Alexanders was a place where people could come and feel less anxious. We put on soothing music, used pleasing scents in our cleaners, wore masks and gloves all the time.

Through social media, people knew who we were and what we were about before they even stepped into the store. It’s powerful.

What pieces of advice did you ignore in 2020?

This is an edited version of an article first published on LinkedIn. It has been republished with permission.

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