Community Foods Market in West Oakland. Photo: Deonna Anderson
Community Foods Market is looking for a community boost. The West Oakland grocery store has seen sales decline 35% since December 2020. To counter the decline, the market has launched an SOS (Save Our Store) refreshment campaign.
Fewer customers shop and those who walk in buy less, according to Community Foods Market founder and CEO Brahm Ahmadi.
“We saw regular customers go from full shopping carts to hand baskets and now only a few items are in their hands,” said Ahmadi in a video shared with Sharon Rance, a store manager.
Ahmadi attributes the decline to two main factors. The first is some customers’ discomfort about being in a public place during a pandemic. According to Ahmadi, many community food customers are older and immunocompromised. The second reason is that financial pressures from an economic recession are causing customers to reevaluate their budgets and shift their shopping habits to larger corporate stores, either to save money or because they believe it will lower their own spending.
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“I believe that many people who find themselves in financial difficulties return to corporate store shopping due to misperceptions and misunderstandings, which can save them money,” said Ahmadi.
Ahmadi points out that any grocery bill must also include transit costs, which could mean an additional fee if the buyer has to pay for gasoline or transit. The further a customer has to travel, the less they will save, even if the sales slips suggest otherwise.
“I believe that many people who find themselves in financial difficulties return to corporate store shopping because of misperceptions and misunderstandings, which can save them money.” – Braham Ahmadi
Ahmadi also claims that Community Foods regularly conducts price comparisons with nearby competitors – Target and Pak n Save in Emeryville and Sprouts on Broadway in Oakland – to ensure prices can stay competitive with retail chains.
“Still, there is a misconception that since we are a small business and an independent grocer, we have to be more expensive,” said Ahmadi. “It’s disappointing, but not surprising. This is fairly common and predictable behavior during tougher economic periods. “
The decline in shopping has sparked a number of financial dominoes. Due to lower sales, Community Foods Market had to buy from wholesalers in smaller quantities and at higher prices. To keep retail prices competitive and affordable to customers, the market had to cut its profit margins and look for other ways to cut costs, including laying off more than a third of its employees.
Brahm Ahmadi, CEO of Community Foods Market, at the groundbreaking ceremony for the grocery store in West Oakland. Photo: Community Foods Market / Facebook
Ahmadi is straightforward with the diagnosis. If the Community Foods Market can’t go back to where it was sold in November 2020 or earlier, it’s doubtful that the business can last through the summer. Hard news for any business, but one that feels especially heavy for community foods.
The grocery store at 3105 San Pablo Avenue wasn’t just a way to make money or bring jobs to West Oakland, although it does both. It was designed to bring fresh, nutritious, and affordable groceries to a collection of neighborhoods – McClymonds, Hoover-Foster, and Clawson – that hadn’t had a full-service grocery store for more than 40 years.
Ahmadi spent a decade doing the footwork to start a grocery store and then nearly another decade opening up community foods. The store opened in June 2019. Losing business after less than two years of business and 20 years of work could put the clock back 40 years.
Ahmadi hopes to avoid this with a refresher campaign by asking customers to do their shopping at the Community Foods Market at least once a month – either in person or online – and getting five people they know to do the same to do. Boosters are also encouraged to get the word out on social media
Customers can also receive referral cards to give to friends to fill out and hand in at the store. Each referral card serves as an entry ticket to a weekly raffle of a $ 200 gift certificate, which the business runs for six consecutive weeks for six different winners.
It’s not a fundraiser even though it comes with a giveaway and Community Foods also has a GoFundMe page where people can donate money too. The SOS refresher campaign is more of a community pledge. A plea for customers to show their values with their dollars.
“Our goal is to get people back to the store to see that CFM actually has a good price,” said Ahmadi. “If that happens, I think enough people will return to put us on a good footing again.”
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