Guest Post by Rebecca Maas, Peppercommotions
I recently spent some time in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia where the hot news topics were the record high temperatures, the Flying Squirrels – the capitol city’s new minor league baseball team – and the introduction of Martin’s Food Markets to the metro area. More notable, however, than the entrance of Martin’s has been the exit of Richmond’s beloved Ukrop’s, the 70-year-old, family-owned grocery chain known for its good ol’ southern hospitality (employees cart your groceries to your vehicle for free – no tipping allowed!) and the best gosh-darn baked goods this side of the Mason-Dixon. When Ukrop’s was acquired earlier this year by Martin’s Richmonders didn’t take the news so well.
You see, Ukrop’s is more than a place to buy groceries; it’s an institution in central Virginia. Ukrop’s is a major player in the community – from its very own Ukrop’s Foundation that benefits economic development initiatives, to serving as title sponsor of the annual Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10K. As a former Monument Avenue resident, and a two-time participant in the run, I can tell you first-hand that this race is very meaningful to the community. It also has national recognition as one of USA Today’s top 10 road races (2009).
Ukrop’s is synonymous with the Monument Avenue 10k – it should be, considering it has been the title sponsor of the race since its inception in 2000. With Martin’s coming to town, many are wondering what next year’s race will bring and rumors are flying about its new face. Some say it will be the Martin’s Market Monument Avenue 10K; others say it will be the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10K Presented by Martin’s. Some even claim that the Ukrop family will personally sponsor the race in an effort to keep their name alive. Time – and attitudes – will tell.
While many in Richmond are struggling with this change, it’s not the first time a treasured event (or icon) has had to make nice with a new sponsor. College bowl games are constantly swapping out sponsors, and you have to wonder what Tiger Woods’s sponsors are really thinking for the long-term. Without a hard and fast formula that can automatically generate the best solution, brands must – at the very least – collaborate with the out-going sponsor as much as possible, where possible. Martin’s should be able to do this pretty easily considering they now own the out-going sponsor.
Another crucial step is to listen to what customers and audiences are saying. This includes paying attention to the local news; the Richmond Times-Dispatch covered the first round of Martin’s openings on its front page and its Twitter feed has been jam-packed with Martin’s/Ukrop’s-related tweets. Responding to questions and concerns from the community in a timely fashion is equally important. Avoiding an open and honest discussion will only lead to comments like “it didn’t used to be like this.”
If they’re lucky, Martin’s will be in Richmond for a long time and they’ll quickly understand that their neighbors don’t like change. My recommendation would be to keep the Ukrop’s name around for a while, and move forward with the switch nice and slow, Virginia-style.