Convenience of Online Grocery Shopping Comes to Clearwater
January 27, 2021
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January 27, 2021
For many small businesses, the pandemic forced them to pivot and adapt to changing needs — or risk losing customers. Mize’s Thriftway, the local grocery store in Clearwater, Kan., was no different. The family-owned store was quick to offer curbside pickup and launched an online grocery shopping platform, mizesthriftway.com, on December 10, 2020.
“I’ll tell you – all ages are using it. Most of the younger people say it’s just more convenient for them,” Mize’s Operations Manager Brad Mize said. “You know, I’ve even had comments from people who are just using it because they don’t like to go grocery shopping … it doesn’t have anything to do with COVID!”
To his point, the benefits of online grocery shopping and curbside pickup go beyond reducing exposure to others in the store. It’s a great option for anyone looking to save time, a parent who doesn’t want to shop with kids in tow, or someone who has a physical impairment such as difficulty walking or reading labels.
Highlighted by the pandemic, both food security and access to high-speed internet have become increasingly hot topics, and for good reason. With SKT's 2018 completion of a fiber to the premises installation, Clearwater residents have access to internet speeds capable of handling remote work and education, telemedicine, online shopping, and more – making them better equipped as they adjust to pandemic-related changes. Likewise, access to broadband has been good for businesses. Demand for online grocery ordering and curbside pickup has never been higher. Where some rural grocery stores may be limited by the community's broadband access, Mize's is not, which has allowed them to launch their online ordering site at mizesthriftway.com. Rural grocery stores are often a barometer of the economy in small towns, noted David Procter, director of the Center for Engagement and Community Development at Kansas State University*. The continued success of Mize's and other rural grocery stores can have a ripple effect on the local economy while improving food security, particularly for those limiting their exposure.
*April 2020 article on agriculture.com
Mize admits that although they knew that the grocery industry was heading in this direction, they had been somewhat reluctant to implement an online shopping platform because of the expense. But when the pandemic hit, they realized that there were people out there who weren’t going to the grocery store. So, beginning in March, Mize’s Thriftway began accepting customers’ grocery lists via email for curbside pickup. That worked out pretty well; however, as orders continued to increase, Mize declared, “We’ve gotta have it – we’ve got to just go ahead and do it!”
The search began for the best online shopping app for Mize’s Thriftway. Mize expands, “A lot of companies were just putting their top 5,000 items on their sites. I didn’t want to go with just 5,000 items; if I was going to go with it, I thought, ‘let’s just go ahead, you know, and try to put the whole store on it!’ So, it took us about four months to get it up and running because I had to link pictures with the meat items and the deli items (making sure that it was pounds and not inches) – just whatever you can think of – I had to check on it. So, it took a little bit of time doing all that, but we got ‘er done!” He isn’t kidding. There are 20,000 items on Mize’s online website! Mize states that it’s still a process, and that he works on it every day – adding items, constantly tweaking it so people can find items more easily, and he acknowledges, “It’s going to be an ongoing thing from now on.” Two enhancements currently in the works include posting the weekly ads directly on the shopping site and erecting the sign (which has been ordered) that will direct customers to parking and also display the phone number to call upon their arrival for pickup.
“It’s doing really well; we’re really pleased with it,” Mize says. Online grocery shopping is a beautiful thing: Customers can simply go to the mizesthriftway.com website where all the products available at Mize’s Thriftway are listed, including pictures, sizes, UPCs, and prices – everything from Baby & Childcare to Meat & Seafood … the cat’s preferred food, the son’s favorite hot sauce, and so on. The site is mobile-friendly, so you can even shop on your phone or tablet. The “Search” feature is also very helpful. Simply add items to the cart, choose the date and time for pickup, enter credit card payment information, review, and place the order. Voila! There are no added fees for using this service, and in most cases, orders are ready within two hours. In fact, once an order has been procured and the payment run, a notification email is automatically sent the very minute it’s ready for pickup – often earlier than projected! But no worries there either. Orders are kept in the refrigerator and/or freezer (if required) and may be picked up at the customer’s convenience. A Mize’s employee will cheerfully deliver the order right to the vehicle. “You don’t even have to get out in the rain or the snow,” Mize exclaims.
Like anything new, the online site can be a little intimidating for some people. Mize encourages, “What you really need to do is just to get on there and start pushing all the buttons and clicking everywhere because you’re not going to hurt anything by looking at it.” He adds, “Just explore, and you’re going to find stuff that you didn’t dream we even had at this store!”
Online grocery shopping can be a huge time-saver and is great for those who shop for others – with maybe several orders to keep straight. Now, you can just sit at home, fill out your list(s), send them in, and let Mize’s do the work for you. Right now, their busiest days for fulfilling online orders are Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. How do they manage? Mize explains, “Whoever happens to be on the clock that day is the one who gets to do it. Kim [Brad’s wife] will do some, I do some, and when the checkers come in, they do also. I’m trying to teach all of my checkers to do it so that at any given time, if someone is sick, someone else can fill in.” Since the arrival of COVID-19, the number of customers who are needing online grocery shopping has soared. Industry-wide, almost 10 percent of the population is using this solution now – which is actually a huge number. Mize adds, “That’s why we got it and I’m glad we did, now!”
Rural customer, Stephanie House, uses the service at least once a week. She began curbside pickup as soon as it was offered – back when the email method was introduced. She says, “I just love the new website. It makes it even easier for me to shop at my favorite store.” Stephanie admits that although she’s not a “computer genius,” learning to use the website was easy and she’s never had any trouble. “I think a lot of people are trying to limit the places they go because of COVID … and for many reasons,” she reflects, adding, “From the very beginning, Mize’s went above and beyond to try to accommodate all their shoppers. To me, this is just one more way they give back to the community and I’m very grateful for them … it’s been a blessing.” Stephanie uses the website’s “Search” feature to find exactly what she wants or sometimes to explore just for fun. Explaining, she says, “It’s kind of fun to see what else they have – like, ‘I kind of want a frozen pizza … what kinds do they have?’ You don’t even have to go into the store, and you can see all these different kinds. I’m expanding my meal range lately and my family loves it!”
What are some of their most popular items? Brad replies, laughing, “Well, in the last six months, it’s been toilet paper! Yep, we had some struggles there for a while. What’s funny is that during the whole pandemic, we had stuff right here in Clearwater that you couldn’t get in Wichita. People were driving here, you know, and calling us on the phone, ‘Do you have this?’ and ‘Do you have that?’, and I said, ‘Yeah, we have it!’ Even during Christmas time this year, we had people calling, ‘Do you have marshmallow crème?’; ‘Do you have white chocolate?’; ‘Do you have peanuts for making peanut brittle?’ They’d say, ‘We’ve been everywhere, and we can’t find it in Wichita’ and I’d say, ‘Well, yeah, I’ve got it right here on the shelf!’, so I guess, you know, it feels good sometimes to be able to tell somebody that we’ve got it and no one else does!”
Mize’s Thriftway will be celebrating 50 years of serving the Clearwater community this August. Mize shares, “We’re in the early planning stages already – and we’re planning to have a big blow-out!” First opened in 1971 by Nolan and Betty Mize, Mize’s Thriftway currently has 30 employees, including Nolan and Betty’s sons, Brad and Eric, Brad’s wife, Kim, and their son, Josh; however, throughout the years, Nolan and Betty’s four sons, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren have worked at the grocery store at one time or another. Nolan and Betty’s oldest son, Phil, retired a couple of years ago, but he’s still a part of this family business. Brad reflects, “I started in the very beginning in 1971, and then David Coon came on. He’s been with us the whole time. He’s like family. And you know – there is at least one Mize at the store every day. That’s how my Dad wanted it. We consider Dave part of the family, so some days he’s here when we’re not.” Mize continues, “We have some really dedicated employees who work for us. They all live here in Clearwater; they work in Clearwater – it’s their community too. They’ve stayed strong in the face of fear and uncertainty during this time and have stepped up to the plate. And they’ve done an amazing job, really, during this pandemic. They’ve worked long hours. Anything that we’ve given them to do, they’ve done … disinfecting, cleaning, stocking groceries – we had some really big orders in the beginning – and they just did a great job with everything.”
Mize’s Thriftway is just one small, independent store. They’re part of the community, know most of their customers by name, have employed generations of the same families throughout the years, have watched people come and go. “You know, there’s a special thing about that,” Brad reflects. But big, corporate competitors are just 15-20 miles away. With the grocery industry changing every day, it’s hard to keep up. Mize’s Thriftway is simply not able to offer everything the big competitors do, but, happily, online grocery shopping is not one of them! Mize sums it up this way, “We’re just a small family business and, you know, our mission is to just bring quality customer service at competitive prices. We offer service that you can’t get in town … we carry out your groceries to your car … we just appreciate everybody who comes in.”
449 N. 4th St.
Clearwater, KS 67026