Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Destination Retailing Is a Two-Way Street

The school year is ending and like every proud parent I seize any opportunity to cheer on my students’ successes. Today was cause for a classic moment of spontaneous celebration – the annual arts magazine published by my daughter’s high school featured one of her paintings. The local Starbucks that we frequent almost daily just wasn’t special enough – instead we dashed across town to our favorite ice-cream parlor, Stucci’s.

There are several great frozen-dessert cafes along the way; Goodberry’s is the local craze and, of course, Marble Slab is always popular, but Stucci’s is unique because its selections are extra-creamy, supposedly because the frozen delicacies were trucked in from those prime bovines in Midwestern dairies.

The trip to Stucci’s is an extra 10-minute commute past the other options, which in this gas-centric economy equates to more than just a little pocket change, but for special occasions, it’s worth the drive.

Imagine our disappointment when we saw that Stucci’s name had recently been changed to Golden Cone. The reason, explained the co-owner, is that it has become too costly to transport the Stucci’s brand from Michigan to North Carolina. Instead, the ice-cream parlor has begun to carry the Hershey’s brand of ice cream because it is locally distributed. Hershey’s ice cream is okay, but it is available at a number of local restaurants, including fast-food chains such as Hardees.

The couple who owns the Stucci’s-turned-Golden Cone are really nice folks – the kind of people you want to help stay in business. So, whenever we’re in their neighborhood and needing an ice-cream fix, that will be our first choice. But next time we have cause to celebrate, sadly we won’t think about driving across town for the same kind of ice cream that’s available on several other corners.

The secret to destination-retail success is that it has to be worth the drive, and with gas prices approaching $4.00 a gallon, consumer expectations have been raised.

Now is not the time to trade brand equity for lowered costs – that will cost you in the long run. The real opportunity here would be for the Stucci’s parent company to step in and provide its franchisees with better transportation partnerships – unless of course they are content to keep all their ice cream in the Midwest.

The only winner in this scenario is my waistline, which will benefit from afternoon treats of coffee sans cream instead of extra-creamy frozen desserts.

—Connie Robbins Gentry

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