New York City does many things extremely well, from the lights on Broadway to world-class destination shopping.
So it's somewhat perplexing that the city arguably has the most lackluster, overpriced, outdated grocery stores in the nation — with just a few notable exceptions, like Fairway.
Long before Whole Foods entered Manhattan in 2001, Fairway was, as its slogan goes, like no other market.
From its roots as a fruit and vegetable stand in 1933, Fairway grew to one of the city's most revered grocers. The founding Glickberg family transformed their flagship store on Broadway on the Upper West Side into a destination for both everyday foods and gourmet fare.
With a marketable combination of high quality products, competitive prices and an engaging atmosphere, the Glickberg's turned grocery shopping to an event.
No one remembers that better than Dan Glickberg, 31, great-grandson of Fairway founder Nathan Glickberg.
Growing Up in the Business
Glickberg was just a kid when the family opened its second store in 1995: A significantly larger store in Harlem, notable for its "Cold Room," which contains the store's meats, seafood, dairy products and beer. It even offered coats to customers who wanted to keep warm while browsing the freezer.
Glickberg unloaded trucks, waited tables at the Fairway Cafe on the Upper West Side, stocked shelves and ran the cash register before joining his father, Howard, in the family business. He worked alongside his dad, then Fairway CEO, during a period of rapid expansion.
Howard Glickberg said he was grooming his son to succeed him. But Dan Glickberg left his role as vice president of Fairway to start his own consulting and venture capital business in April 2013 — just before the chain of now 14 stores went public.
Glickberg is one of the investors on the Food Network's "Food Fortunes," which has been compared to "Shark Tank" for the culinary world. It gives those with innovative recipes, products or food concepts an opportunity to earn investments from industry leaders.
CMSWire caught up with Glickberg to talk about the new company, Dan Glickberg Foods, as well as some of the customer-centric lessons he learned during his years at Fairway.
Sobel: What did you learn about customer service and marketing from your years at Fairway?
Glickberg: I was a big believer in talking to customers in the aisles to get their perspectives, what they liked, what they didn't like, and to find out if they understood our messaging.
Even today I love standing in the aisles of stores and talking to the consumer. I feel that you can learn so much more with one-on-one face time with the consumer than in large focus groups. You usually get more direct answers to your questions and it is easier to ask follow up questions.
In marketing we were definitely an early adopter of an integrated media strategy rather than traditional advertisement. At the time it was pretty uncommon for brands to do what we were doing and it is pretty amazing to see the magnitude of integrated media strategies in today's marketplace.
Sobel: How have you adapted those lessons to your new business?
Glickberg: Today I'm always trying to get my brands to push the envelope when it comes to marketing and advertising and to think outside the box. What is going to be the next big idea or a new way to reach the consumer?
For certain brands that means selling directly to the consumer and bypassing retail (I think this is a very interesting aspect of the retail and consumer packaged goods environment today). Figuring out how to use social media effectively, focusing on messaging quality not quantity, and if you even have the scale to make social media worth the time and effort.
At Fairway we always tried to push sales and in everything we did. I try to remember that at the end of the day the customer is going to tell you what is working and what is not working in your numbers. So to me, that means simple and straightforward messaging with a healthy dose of customer service.
In today's environment of cost cutting and efficiency sometimes you lose sight of the fact that the customer always comes first and you do not want to disrupt the customer experience to pad the bottom line. At the end of the day you can actually end up hurting the bottom line in the long run.
Sobel: How did you capitalize on media as a form of branding, marketing and promotion at Fairway?
Glickberg: My foray into media really began in 2006 with a microsite called "Discover Fairway." It was way ahead of its time and not really meant for a small company like ours.
We would post new videos with different food tips every week. I tried to keep the format to one minute per video. We also posted cooking demonstrations featuring Mitchel London, which was the genesis of what later became a partnership with WNBC. We started off doing cooking demonstrations on WNBC's 5 pm show and later produced one-minute food tip segments similar to those on Discover Fairway.
The WNBC partnership was a phenomenal experience for me. It also provided unparalleled brand awareness in a way they had not yet been accomplished by such a small regional chain.
I've always thought that timing is a huge part of success, and for where both NBC and Fairway were at that time, the timing could not have been better.
Sobel: TV and the web worked well for you. So why did you make the move into radio?
Glickberg: Our partnership with radio station WOR grew out of the WNBC experience. Management at WOR, which at the time was a local radio station run by the founding Buckley family, had seen our spots on NBC and were chomping at the bit to have a similar integration on air.
The big thing for us was that we were reaching two different audiences. That is why it made sense to do both partnerships.
And for both WNBC and WOR, I think I saw the added value in being able to use the footage and tapes on our website and in our stores. When we were able to use the clips in other formats as well as live on air, the cost per impression was driven down significantly for our business.
Sobel: How have things changed now that Fairway is a public company?
Glickberg: I can't really comment on how things are going today except to say that I wish them the best of luck. It was an extremely personal and very difficult decision to leave but it was the right decision at the time.
Fairway has and will always hold a special part of my heart. I'm definitely going to be rooting for them. I'd lying if I said that I didn't miss working for the company but at the same time I am extremely happy and very excited about where my career is today.
Sobel: With your new company, Dan Glickberg Food, you are actively pursuing venture capital opportunities in the food business and consulting. Will food continue to be at the center of your life as you pursue your new ventures?
Glickberg: Food will always beat the center of my life, just as it always has been. I wouldn't want to be doing anything else! I think watching food and technology integrate more and more with each passing year is going to be fascinating and that is something that I'm definitely focused on in both the near and long term.
Title image by Asa Smith Aarons.