How digital marketing helped Second Ave Grocer through COVID-19

While COVID-19 has left many small Australian enterprises reeling, the resulting lockdown has proved a catalyst for positive change for Second Ave Grocer.

Founded by the Palamara family, the Melbourne continental grocer has kept the local community supplied with a serviced deli, local and imported cheeses, continental groceries and fresh seasonal produce since 1970. Now run by the second generation, with an up and coming third generation providing support, the family has operated from its current premises in Altona North since 1990.

Personalised service comes as standard. “My father, his siblings and brother in-law work in the store and know many of the customers by name – that’s the sort of experience we offer,” Palamara says.

When COVID-19 shutdown measures were introduced in late March, the phone began ringing hot, with regulars asking whether Second Ave Grocer could do home delivery.

“At the time it wasn’t something we did, but being a family business and here for the community, we decided we were going to start offering it,” Palamara says. “We started with free delivery for the elderly and people who were self-isolating, and then let everyone else know, by social media, that it was an option.”

While the move was a positive one for the community, the family quickly realised taking dozens of orders a week via phone and email was inefficient. They saw an opportunity to boost productivity by fast-tracking plans for an online ordering service.

Second Ave Grocer has since invested over $20,000 developing an online platform that links directly to its in-store point of sale (POS) system. When it launches, shoppers will be able to place orders for over 1,000 of the store’s most popular items.

“It was something we had in mind for the future, but it wasn’t a high priority – until the pandemic came along and made it one,” Palamara says. “The demand for home delivery was so significant, it made us realise we needed to offer this additional sales channel. We’ll put the system through its paces, see what people want and adjust it accordingly.”

"We started with free delivery for the elderly and people who were self-isolating, and then let everyone else know, by social media, that is was an option."

Julien Palmara. Second Ave Grocer

Doing business online

It’s not Second Ave Grocer’s first foray into internet marketing strategies. The business has been active on social media since 2015, using Instagram and Facebook to build brand awareness and attract new customers to the store.

“We’re tucked away in a suburban street, in between some houses, so you really have to go looking for the business to find it,” Second Ave Grocer’s general manager Anthony Krslovic says. “That’s an area where I feel social media has been a big help.”

Second Ave Grocer’s digital marketing agency creates a steady stream of posts and video clips promoting new lines and sharing cooking tips and mouth-watering recipes.

This investment in professionals has been money well spent – Krslovic believes small businesses that don’t invest in e-commerce may be missing out.

“If you look around, people’s attention is constantly on their phones, whether they’re standing in a line somewhere or out at the shops,” he points out. “So much of their time is spent on social that you really need to be in that space. It takes a while to get traction – some people might begin and feel they’re not getting anywhere – but if you keep going, you can see a great end result.”

"We're tucked away in a suburban street ... so you really have to go looking for the business to find it. That's an area where I feel social media has been a big help"

Anthony Krslovic. Second Ave Grocer

Partnering with NAB

NAB helped fund a 2019 upgrade of Second Ave Grocer’s POS system, along with a van that’s now used for home deliveries. The bank has also supported the Second Ave Grocer’s recent online business expansion, the latest milestone in a 30-year partnership with the Palamara family.

“Our current NAB Relationship Manager, Joe, has been outstanding through the COVID-19 crisis,” Palamara says.

“When the pandemic became real in Australia and we were going into lockdown, there was a lot of uncertainty about what it might mean for our business. Joe called to reassure us that he was going to be there, and that NAB would support us with any funding we might need.

“He checks in with us regularly and it’s been very comforting to know we have that long-term, trusted relationship – it’s helped give the family the confidence to move ahead with our plans.”

Opportunity in adversity

While the COVID-19 crisis continues to generate immense uncertainty and challenges, it’s also providing the motivation for small businesses like Second Ave Grocer to enhance and evolve their operations.

“Digital technology gives us a great platform to innovate,” Krslovic says. “We’ve had the push we needed to set up an online shop, which may end up being as big, or even bigger, than the Altona store.

“It’s easy to spend time worrying about whether you should do something, and whether you’ll get it right, but not attempting anything new is a recipe for being left behind. We see what’s happening as a real opportunity because the sky’s the limit with online business.”

Important information

The information contained in this article is correct as of September 2020 and is intended to be of a general nature only. It has been prepared without taking into account any person’s objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on this information, NAB recommends that you consider whether it is appropriate for your circumstances. NAB recommends that you seek independent legal, financial, and taxation advice before acting on any information in this article.