After launching and selling a successful technology company, Bobby Brannigan had an idea to help his father, a long-time neighborhood grocer in Brooklyn.
He wanted to help him compete with larger grocery chains by creating an site that would make his father’s inventory accessible online.
“When I told him the idea, my father was immediately skeptical,” said Brannigan, who spent a good deal of this youth working for the family business.
He wasn’t deterred. Brannigan knew that he could provide something that would benefit other small grocers and other locally owned businesses.
The idea itself wasn’t revolutionary, big chains have been offering online ordering, pick-up and delivery for years.
What was unique was making this kind of platform available to smaller, locally-owned businesses, like his dad’s Italian grocery, that couldn’t afford to sink money into developing their own technology, uploading photos of thousands of items, and capturing the nutritional information for every product they sold.
Small grocery stores, especially mom-and-pop stores, tend to be rooted in instinct and community relationships.
The local grocer talks to customers, listens to requests, observes the flow of inventory and orders based on a mix of data, experience, gut and intuition. In a week, a grocer may interact with a few dozen people for a sustained period of time.
Brannigan’s platform, Mercato, takes that to the next level by allowing grocers to see what customers are shopping for even if they aren’t buying it in their stores. The program can glean information from thousands of people daily.
Shoppers access individual stores in their local area via the location-specific website and fill their carts accordingly, but customer searches provide insights even when they don’t generate sales. Think of how valuable it is to know that 30 people searched for Oatly Oatmilk, but didn’t add it to their cart because it wasn’t in stock at your location? It adds a keen reflection on supply and demand.
A lover of numbers, stats and comparison, Brannigan said that Mercato can be particularly helpful for new grocery stores looking to establish themselves in a community.
“It’s super interesting because opening a grocery, how else do you know what to sell?” Brannigan said. “We can search the zip code to see what people in that area have been searching for.”
And he said that judging from shopping habits, Mercato isn’t just stimulating online orders, it’s attracting new walk-in customers as well.
Everyone is so busy that they may be reluctant to venture into a small shop if they think it won’t have what they are looking for.
“Now, people can take a virtual peek inside the store by plugging a few key items into a search and if they are convinced that it’s worth their while, it’s more likely that they will stop by the store on their next shopping trip,” Brannigan said.
Shoppers who prefer to browse the aisles and pick their own produce and meats, rather than surfing a keyboard for items are more likely to use Mercato to plan their next visit rather than load up their digital carts.
Either way, it’s a win for small grocers who have a special place in his heart.
Although he plans to maintain a small office space in New York for sales executives on the east coast, Brannigan recently decided to relocate the company headquarters to San Diego where he feels the burgeoning startup community, and relative affordability compared to New York and San Francisco, make it an attractive place for young technology executives.
It also doesn’t hurt that the region is populated by plenty of independent grocery stores that fit into his plans to entice markets from coast to coast to adopt his platform.
His current sales and executive team serves more than 650 independent grocers across the country in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., and they plan to continue expanding.
With 26 employees in the region, Brannigan is anxious to establish strong roots in San Diego.
Venissimo Cheese and Windmill Farms are among the first to adopt the platform, and by the end of the year, Brannigan plans to have over 50 local San Diego artisans’ inventories on the Mercato app.
Check out Mercato