Michele Gissi has always had a passion for finding ways to connect with consumers and fostering relationships – the best parts of marketing and branding, she says. After earning a marketing and management degree in 2011 followed by her MBA in 2012 (both from Wagner College), she began her career at Havas Media International. There she was wowed from the agency side by the various media vehicles and tactics used to help make those connections. Less than one year later, she made the jump to the client side when she joined Key Food. Now a five-year veteran with the retailer, Gissi is one of three Women of Excellence honorees in the “Rising Star” category.

What are your current responsibilities?

Gissi: I lead all efforts for traditional and digital marketing, social media, PR, e-commerce, media/vendor partnerships, charitable programs/philanthropic events, grand openings, branding, store brand design and artwork.

How are you working to provide turnkey solutions for your 240-plus stores?

Gissi: Our e-commerce platform is with Instacart. We’re working on a strategy to provide all of our stores with a platform for online shopping. Since our stores are independently owned and operated, product assortments can vary greatly by store and are unique and specific to the communities they serve. With the creation of white-label sites for all of our banners, we’re making it easier for our customers to shop from their specific favorite stores.  

Key Food is the official supermarket of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets. What has that done for your stores?

Gissi: When I came on board in December 2012, we had just started our first year as a sponsor. It really makes perfect sense. We were founded in Brooklyn and the team was moving here, signaling two iconic brands, new and old, coming together. As the partnership grew, the feedback we received was fantastic – both from store owners and our customers. It’s not just about in-arena branding, although that is nice. This partnership allows us to get out and give back to the Brooklyn community with the Nets’ players, staff and other partners.

How so?

Gissi: We’ve done a lot of “surprise & delight” events at our stores where we’ll have players come to help customers shop – there’s nothing like having a 6-foot-11 forward reaching the highest box of cereal for you – and then pay for their groceries, help bag and even help them to their car. This partnership also allows us to leverage and create programs for some of our CPG vendors.

What motivates you when you think about the shopping experience?

Gissi: With so many shopping options out there, a unique point of difference is critical. Our customers are diverse and so are their needs. We work to strike a balance of local and personal to cater to the communities we serve, from specific inventory to assistance with questions about preparation. Technology is certainly making this easier.

Why does customization excite you in this space?

Gissi: In the past we’d execute a campaign and it would maybe only resonate with a portion of our consumers. Now, customers’ preferences are controlling what they see and don’t see and their level of engagement. As a consumer, it saves time and makes me feel like I have a personal connection with my favorite stores or brands. From the perspective of a retailer, it enables us to be “more than just a store” and can connect with our customers in ways they welcome and seek.