Grocery Gateway builds

What is it?...

What is it?

Founded in 1996, Mississauga, Ont.-based Grocery Gateway is a virtual grocer that allows customers to shop online (at and have the goods delivered right to their front doors.

What does the brand stand for?

The company’s stock in trade is tangible goods – food, wine, beer and various non-edible household products, as well as books and videos. But what Grocery Gateway truly offers are two of today’s most prized intangibles – namely, time and service, according to vice-president of marketing John Mozas.

‘It’s not about ordering online,’ agrees Philippe Garneau, a partner with Toronto-based Garneau Wurstlin Philip Brand Engineering. ‘It’s about buying back two hours of your time. Because everyone has better things to do in life than shop for groceries.’

It was GWP that spearheaded the creation of what Garneau refers to as Grocery Gateway’s ‘total brand personality.’ The bedrock of this personality, he says, was defined by Grocery Gateway co-founder and current CEO, Bill Di Nardo, who envisioned the company as a kind of successor to the traditional neighbourhood milkman or delivery person.

With this as the guiding principle, Garneau says, the GWP team developed ’360-degree branding’ designed to communicate a consistent image at every point of contact with the consumer – from the Web site itself to the company delivery vans.

A key was coming up with visual elements that would convey the old-fashioned values of trustworthiness and service. Two are especially crucial. The first is The Grocery Gateway logo, a Disney-esque anthropomorphic truck that Garneau describes as standing for ‘enthusiasm and drive.’ The second is ‘Jim,’ the iconic image of a clean-cut 1950s milkman, rendered in Norman Rockwell fashion. Jim embodies the company’s delivery force – who, in real life, are expected to be such upright and dependable ambassadors that they refuse tips.

How has the site branded itself?

Once all the elements of what Garneau calls ‘the branding DNA’ were in place, Web designers at Grocery Gateway and the company’s interactive agency, Toronto-based Armantus, set to work.

‘We taught them the religion of Grocery Gateway, which was basically to recreate the familiar experience of shopping for food in a bricks-and-mortar store,’ Garneau says. ‘And we all agreed that the site shouldn’t be burdened with colours or complexities that might slow down the ordering process or distract customers from the essence of the brand. There had to be simplicity in the colour codes and a directness of language, along with across-the-board tonal consistency.’

Among the key features the Web team developed is an enticing demo designed to reassure online shopping novices and educate potential customers about the site.

The bottom line, says Mozas, is to ensure that the customer finds the online experience quick and easy, thereby reinforcing the desirability of online grocery shopping. The initial registration process, he notes, takes no more than 15 minutes, after which customers can navigate rapidly from item to item with just two mouse clicks. ‘So if you’re in the meat aisle and you decide you want bananas, you click on ‘Fruits’ and then ‘Bananas,’ and boom, you’re there.’

By mid-1998, the site was up and running. The next step was a pilot test, with approximately 250 customers. Once that was complete, Grocery Gateway felt ready to announce its existence to the grocery-buying public of the Greater Toronto Area.

Garneau, however, says the company was careful to roll out the advertising gradually – a ‘spoonful at a time’ – in order to avoid ‘the greatest sin you can commit in the dot-com world: promising more than you can deliver.’

The initial newspaper campaign, launched in the spring of 1999, was designed to establish the brand’s tone of voice, Garneau says. ‘We kept tight control. If an ad produced too much response in one geographical area for Grocery Gateway to keep up with, we would pull it.’

Next came outdoor. Approximately 70 billboards went up throughout the GTA last summer. ‘The size and prevalence of the billboards was important, to overcome existing stereotypes about Internet start-ups being untrustworthy little tinpot things,’ says Garneau. ‘They had to imply that the client was serious and big enough that, if you gave them a try and they screwed up, they had a lot to lose.’

The outdoor effort was followed by a glossy, information-rich freestanding insert, which dropped in November in strategically chosen periodicals.

Garneau says this step-by-step approach is driven in part by a realization that ‘people don’t become customers [of a start-up company] because of a single ad. They do so because of a series of impressions and personal decisions. So by the end of it, they say ‘I’m ready’ and they show up at the site and have their first experience.’

Other support for Grocery Gateway has been designed to ‘recreate the sense of community that people get while shopping at an actual store,’ Garneau says. This includes sponsoring local baseball teams, and establishing a presence at community events.

To welcome new customers, first-time deliveries are accompanied by gift packages containing small wooden replicas of the Grocery Gateway delivery vans, along with children’s colouring books and product samples from various manufacturers. Drivers also place hangers on the doors of nearby residences, which read, ‘I just delivered [groceries] to your neighbour. Would you be interested in trying our service too?’

A series of 60-second radio spots, launching at the end of this month, will feature the ‘Jim’ character. And Garneau says there’s lots more support for the brand in the works, although he declines to reveal any specifics.

What have the results been?

So far, the powers that be at Grocery Gateway are ‘more than pleased’ with these branding efforts, Mozas says. The company is growing at a rate of 30% a month, with 70,000 registered customers and some 6,000-plus deliveries each week.

While these stats may be dwarfed by the numbers of some larger e-commerce sites, Mozas says Grocery Gateway boasts an enviably high repeat-business rate of 75%. ‘After all, our target audience is basically everybody who needs to buy groceries and is time-starved. And those numbers are huge.’

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