Innovative Retailer – Stew Leonard’s


Brought to you by Retail Insider and PCMS Group

Name: Stew Leonard’s

The Place: Not here, basically. America in fact, where there are currently five outlets with another one scheduled for New York sometime in 2017. It’s a ‘retailtainment’ phenomena.

The Story: Way back in the 1920’s Charles Leonard opened Clover Farms Dairy in the state of Connecticut.

Howdy pardner: Oh no, you’re not going to start talking like a cowboy are you?

Yessir, we’re gonna have us a good ole time at the Dairy: Just no. This ends now.

Killjoy. Alright carry on:  Time goes on and in 1969 the son of the original founder, Stew Leonard, realises that a traditional dairy is about as relevant as a horse and cart and opens the first Clover Farms Dairy Store in the same town with seven employees.

So what’s the difference between Clover Farms Dairy and Clovers Farms Dairy Store? Crucially Stew Leonard cottoned onto the idea of retail theatre before it was even called that…and he designed a store where children could watch the milk bottling process while their parents shopped in peace.

Dang, keep that pot a-boiling: You promised. And so it continued in happy milky peace until the mid 1980’s when land was purchased for a second outlet, which opened in 1991.

I don’t think I did promise actually. Anyway, let’s cut to now: Now there are 2,000 employees and sales are annually $400 million.

Blimey, that’s a lot of pints: Well, clearly the dairy concept has expanded and these stores now carry meat, fish, baked goods, as well as cheese and wine lines, but whereas the average supermarket might have 30,000 different products, Stew Leonard’s only has 2,200 in each store – with a strong emphasis on unique and home-made products.

But I may be missing something but I am not really seeing where the innovation is yet: Coming to that now – not for nothing did the New York Times pen the phrase for Stew Leonard’s as ‘The Disneyland of Dairy Stores’. The outlets have some of the highest sales per square feet in the retail industry.

Yes, yes but how? The force of retail theatre is still strong with Stew Leonard’s. This is a shop that people bring their children to because the children ask, nay beg, to come.

No way: Yes way. There are animatronic singing vegetables, the staff dress up as characters, and there is lots of live music. Did I mention the observational beehives in the fruit section? And there is a cow called Clover who patrols the aisles.

Of course there is: Several outlets have a petting zoo. Cheese-loving children can watch fresh mozzarella being made. There are samples galore – you don’t need to eat lunch after a visit to Stew Leonard’s.

Loving it so far: There are also cookery classes for children – coming up for example is a ‘How to make Father’s Day breakfast’ session.

Good idea, I think older children should be encouraged to cook: It’s for toddlers.

The Dole Whip

Blimey: They catch them super young at Stew Leonard’s. For example, they have several exclusive tie-ins, quite often with Disney (they are obviously its favourite people ever). Check out the fact that they are the only place outside Aloha Isle where you can get a dole whip.

I literally have no idea what that is: Well, it’s clearly some kind of, sort of like, umm, it looks like a non-dairy pineapple angel delight.

That’s a delicacy? Previously you could only get it at Disney resorts where it has achieved a cult following among park goers.

Well that’s America for you: But in a stroke of marketing genius you can now buy it in a normal retail environment only at Stew Leonard’s.

You’ll be telling me they excel at customer service next: OMG I nearly forgot the tombstones.

This doesn’t sound good. No, it is. Every outlet has a huge granite rock at the entrance. Written on the entrance is the following: “Rule Number One: The customer is always right. Rule Number Two: If the customer is ever wrong re-read Rule One.” And that pretty much sums it up.

In my experience, companies which obsess about customers neglect their staff: Not so here, my friend. In fact Stew Leonard’s has been in the famous ‘Fortune 100 Best companies to Work for in America’ list for 10 consecutive years.

But what is so special about what they sell? Remember when we featured Eataly as an Innovative Retailer.

Yup. There are similarities with Stew Leonard’s. You can buy almost as much freshly prepared in-store hot and cold food to eat as you go as you can its own speciality pre-packaged food. You can wander around the shop with a soft ice cream from the stall at the entrance, or have popcorn in any flavour you like, or enjoy a freshly roasted coffee, or perhaps indulge in the famous kalemole.

I don’t really want to ask but…guacamole with kale.

You just can’t buy this sort of expertise can you? Well actually you can. Stew Leonard’s offers three seminar offerings including ‘Creating a happy team’ for two hours at $295 per person, or Stews VIP tour for $195 per person.

Do you get a discount if you speak fluent cowboy? Nope.