With sales increasing over 25%, grocery stores have had to think about how to safely operate to keep customers and employees safe. Northgate Market quickly adapted to meet customer needs, and keep the integrity of their business through every change. We were able to sit down with Joshua Gonzalez, Director of Operations, who talks to us about Northgate’s transition to curbside pickup and online delivery, gaining customers’ trust, and how Northgate is preparing to thrive post COVID-19. Learn all this and more in this episode of Back to Business: COVID-19 & You.
The push for digital has given customers more shopping experiences, whether it’s curbside pick-up, online delivery, or in-store. As Joshua mentions, it’s important to make the experience as seamless as possible for customers. Northgate worked to make sure the digital experience was a complement to the in-store experience because they wanted to continue to connect with customers through every touchpoint.
Creating a consistent, seamless experience for customers online and offline can help build trust, especially at a time like this. Now is the time to optimize omnichannel experiences, and think about how to integrate your in-store experiences digitally.
A common theme throughout our podcast series has been the importance of communication. Many of our guests have emphasized the importance of keeping contact with your network, and Joshua is no different. He shared how Northgate communicated COVID-19 safety measures through its different channels, and also how internal communication has helped the company succeed.
In uncertain times, transparency and open communication can help mid-size businesses maintain and build trust with its customers. Keeping your customers updated can create a smoother shopping experience for them, but the thorough implementation of these changes isn’t possible without consistent internal communication to employees. Now is the time to push for detailed, consistent communication to ensure an effective operation during and after COVID-19.
A family-owned business, Northgate Market has been a SoCal staple for the last 40 years. With a customer-oriented mindset, the company has grown from its Anaheim location to over 30 locations across LA, Orange, and San Diego counties, and is still family run. Joshua Gonzalez is one of many grandchildren that is continuing Founder Miguel Gonzalez Jimenez’s legacy.
Quick disclaimer: these transcripts are auto-generated. They are best used in addition to the Podcast audio not instead of. We cannot guarantee 100% accuracy.
James Fratzke: [00:00:05] Hi, I'm James Fratzke, and this is Back to Business: COVID-19, you powered by Fratzke Media.
James Fratzke: [00:00:17] Hello, everyone, and welcome back to the podcast. On today's episode, we are talking to Joshua Gonzalez of Northgate Market. Now, if you're not aware of Northgate Market, they are a regional supermarket here in Southern California, all the way from Los Angeles down to San Diego. They have 30 plus locations where they serve their local community. Now, in this interview with Josh, I get to ask all the questions we're all curious about when it comes to the supermarket. What happened to the supply chain all the way from toilet paper down to produce and everything in between? And how should customers and team members be treated and how should they be thinking about things as they go to their local supermarkets? With all that being said. Let's jump into it. Enjoy my interview with Joshua Gonzalez.
James Fratzke: [00:01:06] All right. Hi, Joshua. Welcome to the show. How you doing?
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:01:10] I'm doing well, thank you. Thanks for having me.
James Fratzke: [00:01:12] Yeah, it's my pleasure. You know, I'm a fan of Northgate Markets. And when we were putting together the guest list for this podcast, I knew that I wanted to try and get you on the show because Northgate is right smack dab in the middle of an industry that has been impacted by this COVID-19 pandemic in so many ways, both by trying to keep your staff open, your team members safe, but also by trying to serve the community. So I guess I'll just start by asking, how has it been going through this pandemic?
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:01:46] You know, it's been a unique experience as a company that's family owned.
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:01:53] We are all about our values and we are people first. So that means making decisions that are in the best interest of our associates, our customers and our larger community. So it's been all about staying ahead and working with the CDC, with the authorities and understanding what are the new learnings and how do we adapt quickly to keep our team members safe and our stores and stop.
James Fratzke: [00:02:21] Right and the stock thing has been something that I think hit a lot of people kind of out of nowhere. Going into a supermarket and seeing shelves empty. What has Northgate been doing to kind of keep up with the demands?
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:02:37] Well, a few things. We have an amazing team at our distribution center that has worked very hard to keep our stores in stock. Now we have a team at the stores, our associates, that are working tirelessly to keep our customers happy and make sure we have our stores with fresh product, which is very important to our meats, our veggies and our grocery items. So we've been working around the clock to make sure that our customers find a well stocked store.
James Fratzke: [00:03:07] Yeah, well, and I know people appreciate that, and I know that you've. You were one of the first companies in the community to think about how do we serve senior citizens? How do we serve our community in ways that's important to them? And I think folks have really appreciated that. What are some of the trends that you're seeing right now? Because at the beginning, it was all about toilet paper and then it was about, you know, having canned foods. And now it seems to be about making sure that we all have the things that we need to do our hair and those type of things. But what are some of the trends that you're seeing right now?
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:03:42] Some of the trends that we're seeing are a focus on safety and sanitation. So customers are very, very focused on being able to see sanitation, not just you tell them about it, but they want to see our team members wearing masks. They want to see our team members wearing gloves. They want to see our store being sanitized while they're here. They want to see clean surfaces. All of these things are are a new normal. And people want to see it. And that's something we have to provide. We have a responsibility to provide that experience, and that's safety in terms of product. We see customers starting to gain trust in perishables again and in prepared foods. And it's all about safety. They want to see it. And if we can provide that which we which we do and work hard at, our customers are signed to buy more perishable items and complementing that with grocery, which in the first weeks, as you know, was very heavy on grocery and less perishables.
James Fratzke: [00:04:46] Right. Yeah, absolutely. So going into different markets, you kind of see we were able to see it kind of in phases at first.
James Fratzke: [00:04:57] Markets were trying to start to react as quickly as they could. Then it was OK. Everybody needs to wear a mask. Then you go in week four week five. There's decals on the floor. You have some of the glass kind of partitions between the cashiers and the customers. Are there any things kind of coming down downstream that as the state of California starts to reopen or are there any new precautions or things that you guys feel are critical for continuing to kind of reopen and bring more people into the stores?
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:05:33] Sure. We've been on the cutting edge of safety and sanitation, as you just mentioned.
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:05:39] Everything from the sneeze guards for the cashiers to gloves, disposable mats that we give our customers out the door. Well, if they don't bring them, as we have provided reusable masks for all of our associates so they can wear it every time they come to work and require that they weren't, as soon as they come in the door, as well as making sure that we're wearing aprons for the cashiers and we have we have some things that we're just doubling down on. So your question to where is it going? Where it's going is to continue to focus on this and do it better than anyone and do it for our customers.
James Fratzke: [00:06:22] I love that. And that does seem to be the attitude at North Gate has. I had the privilege of kind of getting a guided tour around that La Habra location? And it's it's not just like one of the best markets in Southern California. It's one of the best markets I've ever been into. I just.
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:06:41] Wow. Thank you.
James Fratzke: [00:06:42] Yeah. And I mean it, too. I thought you guys put into it. It is innovative. And so I like what you said about being cutting edge and staying ahead of ahead of things.
James Fratzke: [00:06:55] You said something a while back that I really liked, which was consumers are starting to gain trust in some more of these prepped meals or things along those lines, perishables. How do you as a brand help build that trust?
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:07:12] What will what is the story that you're telling or what are the things that you're doing to it to help build that trust?
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:07:19] You know, it's all about quality. So a hyper focus on quality products on doing them safely.
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:07:27] And when the customer visits us that they see it and they feel it. That's the biggest thing that we can do on a daily basis. And then those customers let other people know. And that's what brings us new customers. And then we have to deliver again when they come. So it's about every day being very focused and doing the right thing.
James Fratzke: [00:07:49] Right. And I loved what you were saying about giving masks to folks if they don't have the masks.I think it's all about providing that customer experience that just makes them feel safe as they're in a Northgate market or any store, for that matter. But you don't see a lot of people taking that step. And so I think that that speaks to you guys hospitality in a way that is is really complementary to how you think about your customers. What are some of the things that you're using from a storytelling perspective to try and bring people into into a Northgate Market?
James Fratzke: [00:08:29] Are you still doing ads in the mail or are you. Are you doing anything on social media or through your website or anything like that? That's kind of different from how you used to do it, to how you're doing it today because of the pandemic.
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:08:45] Sure. I would say that because we're a family owned business and we're very agile, we can make quick decisions and think things through. But not also have to wait to do something that we believe is right.
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:09:02] And what we've been doing is just making sure to communicate well through all of the different channels to our customers about safety, about what we're doing, to making sure that they know what they can expect when they come in. It's one of those things, a tell them and then show them and then tell them again. Right. So we want to make sure that we deliver what we tell them we're going to do through all of the different channels.
James Fratzke: [00:09:29] Yeah, now that's important. What are some of the maybe surprises out of this pandemic that kind of maybe caught you guys off guard? It could be a rise in sales. It could be more collaboration with people in the community. But why has there been anything that, you know, through this unprecedented time, you've kind of stepped back and said, wow. I never thought we could do that. I wasn't expecting that. Has there been anything like that that's popped up?
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:09:59] Sure. The common purpose. People in the community, team members in the stores. Our customers know influential community members coming together to deliver on one thing, which is safety for the community. And it's been amazing to see the collaboration. How much team members step up and do those little things that matter to the customer and be sensitive, be sensitive to what the customer asks for. If it's on an individual basis while they're in the store and somebody is helping them walk them through the store and give them something. But we've seen an amazing collaboration team work, and that has been a breath of fresh air for us.
James Fratzke: [00:10:44] Right. Right. How has the team. What are some of the things you're hearing from the people on the ground? As far as how they've been processing through this, both coming to work and going home and trying to keep everybody health and safety. What has been some of the stories or some the things you've heard?
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:11:04] We've had full transparency with our team and we've been over communicating. We've been having so much content going out from the ownership over in person, over video in the stores, talking to our team members, and they've appreciated that. They've appreciated the transparency, the communication and all of the investments that we've been doing to keep them safe. Many of the things that you mentioned early on that we're doing, we're doing not only for our customers, but for our team members. And they've appreciated that.
James Fratzke: [00:11:43] I bet I bet, especially in this time where so many people there's so much uncertainty, you know folks losing their jobs or just not knowing what the future holds, I'm sure they really appreciate leadership team that's taking care of them and genuinely is looking out for their well-being.
James Fratzke: [00:12:04] All right. I want to take a quick break and pass it over to our head of client strategy here at Fratzke Media, Lisa. Lisa, take it away.
Lisa Fratzke: [00:12:12] Thank you, James.
Lisa Fratzke: [00:12:13] I'm really excited to talk to this audience today because we've been talking to a lot of our clients at Fratzke Media and truly believe that now more than ever, it's important for mid-sized businesses to connect with their customers online. I think we've all seen that COVID-19 has had widespread impacts on companies, our employees and our economy. We fundamentally believe a fancy media that the rebound will be digital. If you don't know where to start and you want to make digital your competitive edge, we can help. Visit Fratzkemedia.com to schedule your free consultation. Our digital marketing experts specialize in helping mid-sized businesses like you leapfrog the competition. We look forward to talking to you soon.
James Fratzke: [00:12:55] Thanks, Lisa. All right. Let's get back into it.
James Fratzke: [00:12:58] What are some of the things that we could be doing as customers coming into a supermarket? And we can talk about Northgate specifically about where we can talk about kind of more broader general idea of going into these markets. A lot of grocery team members have been described as frontline workers right. They're the ones that are helping kind of feed families and make sure that we all get the supplies that we need during this time. So what are some things that we could be doing to help support these team members as we go into a market?
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:13:28] That's a great question. There's three things that our customers can do, and one is make sure to come to the store in smaller groups or individually if you can. The second is social distance. Be aware of your surroundings in the store and and do your best to keep your social distance. And really, the last one, I think, is to thank our team members, to appreciate what our team members are doing, because just like the leadership of the company, we're very appreciative of the customer. I think it's important that the customer also appreciates our team members. We're doing everything to serve them every day.
James Fratzke: [00:14:08] Do you guys see kind of from your perspective? For instance, me and my wife, we have eaten at home three times a day, breakfast, lunch, dinner. Obviously, the supermarket has now become the new restaurant as things start to open back up. Where do you see that going? You see consumers continuing to to like this idea of eating healthier and kind of doing more at home stuff rather than going out.
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:14:36] And we think it's going to be a mix. Pre COVID, Most people said they wanted to eat more meals at home and because of the ranch and all of the the busy lives is difficult to do. So we think it's going to settle somewhere in between. People are going to appreciate their family more. We're going to appreciate that time more. And depending on how work life balance changes, we'll think we're going to adapt. We're going to see what what they are and will continuously be watching. Be very agile to make sure we adjust appropriately.
James Fratzke: [00:15:12] You know, one of the interesting things about Northgate is that you guys are a family owned, battle tested company. And I wonder because a lot of folks that are listening to this will will likely be family owned businesses, mid-sized businesses. What are some of the principles of having that family owned business that have allowed you guys to really adapt and perform well in this kind of uncertain time?
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:15:38] Unity. Unity is very important. And the reason it's important is you start with the end in mind and that's unity.
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:15:46] You start with thinking, how are we going to solve this and how are we going to make it work? So that is the first principle that we follow. And that's that's followed by communication. Right. In order to have that unity communicate well and transparency, need to have transparency, transparency so that you can build trust. And so that trust can become a value of the organization. And people feel good about the way that we're communicating. So to sum it up, I would say first thing is unity, communication and transparency.
James Fratzke: [00:16:25] And that transparency, like you were saying earlier, when you're transparent with both your customers and your team members, it kind of binds people together. And that unity that you're talking about, you feel like you're all in it together. And I think that that's maybe some of the struggles that we're going through right now is feeling like, well, I don't want to put myself on the line if somebody else isn't going to have my back.
James Fratzke: [00:16:49] So it sounds like just kind of based off the conversations that we're having, that ability to clearly communicate, to overcommunicate, to to do it in different ways, whether it's through written word or video. It's been really valuable to the success of Northgate during this time.
James Fratzke: [00:17:09] I want to ask the question that's on everybody's mind when we think about supermarkets and we're going to rewind to the beginning of this toilet paper. What happened in the toilet paper? Why did it disappear? Why is it back on the shelves now? I just want to pick your brain because you might not be a toilet paper expert, but you have some sense of the supply chain and things like that.
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:17:33] What happened was overbuying people panicked and overboought and that created an issue now that people are being more reasonable about the way they buy and buying for a week or a few days. Most people are buying for a week. And that's helping everybody. That's helping everybody get their necessities and their essentials. So what happened there was overbuying and there was a curve that we had to catch up with. But now we're we're back.
James Fratzke: [00:18:03] Yeah, I'm personally happy about that. I think one of the awkward things about all this was, is that maybe naturally you were just already running low and then this happened and you're like, where's my toilet paper?
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:18:15] You've had to get creative, I think.
James Fratzke: [00:18:18] Yes. There's so many jokes we could make about that, too. But yes, creativity has been very important in this time. What are some of the things that you personally are enjoying about? And I say enjoying because it's a little pseudo. But let me give you an example for me. I've enjoyed some of the new habits. I've enjoyed eating at home. I've enjoyed spending less. You know, I've stopped watching as much TV and I started reading more. Those are some of the things that that I've been able to kind of change some habits. Are there any habits or things that you personally have kind of said, hey, I kind of like this, I might want to take this with me into this post COVID-19 world.
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:19:03] I think it's being grateful, being grateful on a daily basis. That's a habit that I want to continue to live with. And do every day take the time to be grateful. Another one is a family time being able to have a conversation. Not rush it not just do it because it's something you need to do, but do it because it's the right thing to do.
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:19:26] It's enjoyable and it helps everybody when you can have a quality conversation. So I would say it's family time and the other one is definitely making sure to be grateful on a daily basis.
James Fratzke: [00:19:39] Yeah, yeah. I know personally and it has humbled a lot of people, including myself, to be more grateful for the time and the people that we have around us. I think that's one of the scariest things, is when you're fighting this invisible enemy, you don't know how it's going to impact you. And one of the things about staying home and doing these stay at home orders is that you're helping other people, you know, might not be that I am in a high risk group. But I have parents and grandparents who are. And so I need to do my part to try and take care of them. Have you noticed that? You know, I like what you said about unity and things like that. Have you noticed that your team and the organization, just as in general, feels more grateful about things and any of that kind of those habits that you've noticed in the people around you?
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:20:35] Yes, I think we all realize how every part of the organization is very important. And when you're not together as much, but you have a very deep, common purpose, you realize that if you don't have one of those pieces, the whole thing doesn't work. So the appreciation of each other and the teamwork has been elevated during this time.
James Fratzke: [00:21:00] Right now, as things get kind of back to normal and things open up again. Do you guys have any thoughts or strategies around how to kind of keep demand up? Because one of the things that we've heard from the numbers and things like that is that the grocery industry, you know, is up 10, 20, 30 percent in different markets. Is there anything that you guys are thinking about in order to kind of keep that demand going in this kind of. As things start to open up?
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:21:35] Yes. One of those is online to be able to do delivery and curbside. That's a big one. That's very important. And another one is to continue to curate a unique and differentiated assortment. Right. That's part of our strategy. It's part of what we do. It's part of our DNA. And we want to continue to double down on differentiation and doing things that others don't do.
James Fratzke: [00:22:04] You guys have a whole aisle of just different kind of Latin and Mexican style foods from different countries that that you get from those different countries. It's not just that they're made up. You literally import them in. How has that been impacted in this time? Have you seen any noticeable difference in the ability to get some of those things imported?
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:22:28] It's a little tougher. It's a little tougher. We work hard at it and we do our best to bring everything we can our in stock conditions in our store are very good. And the reason is because we have team members working tirelessly to get those products on the shelves for our customers. So it has been a little more difficult. But we've still been able to accomplish that.
James Fratzke: [00:22:52] Yeah, yeah. That again, I like what you're saying there about the two key strategies and maybe we can unpack Mahala that more. One is, is saying how do we digitize that process as far as curbside pickup? How do we allow people to do things online but then connect with them in person? Tell me a little bit about how you guys are thinking about that, because obviously you guys are a regional market. You have some these big players, which I won't name their names just out of respect for you. But they have had time to build out apps and things like that and kind of get ahead of or lead the way and some of this delivery stuff for pickup stuff. How what what's the process that you guys go through to try and to add that component to your business?
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:23:43] It'll be a complement to our in-store experience. So we want to be a seamless as possible. We want our customers to be able to enjoy the products that they love. From Northgate in different ways. Whether that be on line or in-store. And we want to make sure that our assortment is so unique and and so compelling that a customer doesn't feel a penalty for shopping online or coming in store. And our in-store experience is going to continue to get better in terms of our friendliness is going to continue to get better. Our product quality is going to continue to get better. So we're very driven on continuous improvement and we're going to continue to get better in our in-store as well as offering online services.
James Fratzke: [00:24:34] Right. You know, a your role, I think from what I recall and you can remind me. You deal a lot with innovation in how to innovate that the Northgate experience. Are there any things that you can share with us? As far as some things are coming down the line that you're excited about?
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:24:54] Sure. We're excited about very unique recipes for Mexico and Latin America, bringing those recipes into our prepared foods, into our bakeries, into our marinated meat sections and offering those products to customers. It'll be familiar with a twist, products that you might know, but you've never tasted it the way that we're going to offer it. So we're very excited about our future and our new products and being able to offer unique Mexican and Latin American products.
James Fratzke: [00:25:26] Well, Josh, as we wrap up here, I want to give you the final word. Is there anything you'd like to share with the audience before we go?
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:25:35] I want to share that at Northgate. We're all about people first. Our customer and our associates. So whatever it is as a company, we need to do to keep our customers and associates safe. And coming back to our stores, we will do it.
James Fratzke: [00:25:52] I love that. That is. That seems to be true to just how you guys do business at Northgate. And Josh, it seems to be true about you as well. You're an outstanding human being. I don't just say that.
Joshua Gonzalez: [00:26:06] Well, thank you.
James Fratzke: [00:26:07] I appreciate that. Josh, thank you so much for your time today. Really appreciate it. Thank you.
James Fratzke: [00:26:13] All righty. I really enjoyed that interview with Joshua because I got to ask all the questions that we've all been thinking about when it comes to grocery stores in the supermarket. What happened to the toilet paper? How do we get back to normal? And Joshua had some great answers, not only from a perspective of being an expert in this grocery store industry, but also how to treat both our customers and our team members. With that being said, I have two major takeaways that I'd like to share. As you know, at the end of each episode, I like to go back into the interview and pull out some digital marketing strategies that you can take with you into your business. And there were two that really stood out to me when talking to Joshua first. We've heard it before and we're going to keep hearing it. How do we connect that online, offline experience in a way that makes life easier for our customers? We're able to serve them according to their preferences. So that's one thing that Northgate is thinking about today, is how do we make sure we respect the integrity of our in-person experience and continue to make that better, but also provide some online experiences that allow for a smoother process, for ordering online and delivery or ordering online and doing that curbside pickup. The other takeaway that I wanted to share was all around communication. And when we think about communicating with our customers, there's no better way than our website, videos, social media. These are some great channels to make sure that you're communicating clearly to your customers and your employees. What are some of the safety precautions and what are some of the things that we're doing as a business to make sure that we're taking care of our community? Alrighty folks, I really enjoyed our time today. And I hope that you enjoyed it, too, because this is one of the lights at the end of the tunnel for me being able to share this time with you until next time. I've been James Fratzke and we'll talk real soon.
James Fratzke: [00:28:16] Everyone, one last thing before you leave. Make sure you go to whatever platform you're listening to, the Back to Business podcast on and leave us a positive review. Every rating and review really helps us grow the show and make sure you share it with people in your professional network so we can help other people like you and your midsize business get back to business.
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