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Polly Flinn: Leaning Into Convenience
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Polly Flinn: Leaning Into Convenience

Chain leader on food innovation, COVID-19, confronting racial injustice and more,

GetGo store front

Photograph courtesy of Giant Eagle

CHICAGO — Four years after leaving Walmart for GetGo, Polly Flinn believes the things that first attracted her to her current company remain some of its biggest strengths.

“The care and thoughtfulness that [GetGo] have toward their team members, investing in their communities–it’s just not quite the same than what I saw at some of the publicly traded and large companies,” Flinn said. “[Walmart] tried to mimic it, tried to emulate it, but it’s just different. It’s deeper, it’s stronger. It’s richer. I saw a team member capability and commitment and expertise that I didn’t see in a lot of the other retailers and businesses that I worked in or became acquainted with.”

Flinn–executive vice president and president of GetGo, the convenience-store arm of Pittsburgh-based supermarket chain, Giant Eagle–discussed her journey to GetGo, food innovation, the COVID-19 pandemic, confronting racial injustice and much more with CSP’s Mitch Morrison in a new Talks From the Top conversation for CSP’s Outlook Leadership Community.

  • Click here to join OLC and to watch Flinn’s on-demand webinar.

Giant Eagle operates a total of 475 stores, including nearly 260 GetGo locations across five States, primarily focused in the metropolitan areas of Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Columbus and Indianapolis. It is No. 30 on CSP’s 2020 Top 202 ranking of c-store chain’s by size. While the company maintains the separate grocery and convenience divisions, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused GetGo to adjust its grocery offer, a move that has been successful, Flinn said.

“People are using [GetGo] more as a grocery destination today,” she said. “Picking up a pound of ground beef, you wouldn’t have done that before at a GetGo, but we think there’s an opportunity. We’re going to expand some refrigeration space inside of our stores, we’re going to expand dairy, we’re going to expand pickup for grocery–refrigerated, frozen and ambient. We’ve seen some real opportunities there for us.”

But GetGo isn’t just bringing more grocery items to the shelf, it’s also revamping its current food menu. Foodservice sales declines during the pandemic have allowed the company to experiment and understand what has worked and what hasn’t regarding its menu, Flinn said.

“This has been a great time to sit and pause and rethink about our food menu,” she said. “This environment has given us the courage to think outside the box a bit. It’s not only about reinventing the assortment that we know consumers are looking for and hope it continues to be a destination after the pandemic subsides; it’s also looking at our existing business and getting the courage in some ways to reinvent it.”

One of those reinventions has been its digital ordering program. GetGo pivoted to offering delivery via DoorDash when the pandemic hit, offering about 100 to 125 items through the service. Since doing so, GetGo has seen a 25% increase in mobile ordering and payments, Flinn said.

“We knew there was something there [with delivery]–the convenience factor on what people were willing to pay for,” she said.

Convenience as a trend has exploded during the pandemic, a time when customers are ordering food from their homes or looking to be in and out of stores within minutes. Overall, the pandemic has taken trends that were already in place and accelerated their presence across all channels, Flinn said.

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“People were leaning into home delivery, people were leaning into more contactless payment, people were leaning into convenience,” she said. “‘Convenience’ used to never be a word that you heard very often associated with a supermarket or an apparel retailer, and now they’re using that word all the time. Consumers continue to lean into the convenience.”

But GetGo strives to be more than a leader in convenience retail by being an organization that supports inclusion and fights racial injustice, said Flinn. Employees have taken the time to converse about the lives of African Americans and how to better empathize with people of color. GetGo has also begun training staff on what to do if a customer or another employee racially discriminates against an employee. While this person would have been kicked out of the store in the past, this simply isn’t enough–the team member needs more support than that, Flinn said. Employees are also watching films about the African American experience and conducting virtual discussions afterwards to help with this process of empathy.

“We’re really trying to get more self-awareness with one another about what it really means,” Flinn said. “And then, we’re working through different policies and programs within the company to make a difference and not just have this be a moment in time that’s here and then gone.”

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