In the hyper-competitive world of retailing, consumers decide where to shop based on five "motivators": price, selection, location, quality and service.

The first four can usually be taken care of with capital and a savvy manager. The fifth, service, is tougher because it works only if everyone in the organization believes in it and practices it.That sounds easy but it's not, as many retailers have learned. Seattle-based Nordstrom Inc. has made itself a national legend by consistently being the leader in customer service.

Now there's a new service superstar for retailers across the nation to study and try to figure out "how they do it." In a national survey released this week, Salt Lake based Dan's Foods received the highest customer service rating for grocery stores in the United States and was ranked second among all retailers.

The survey of 124,734 people in 19 "strategic markets" was commissioned by the Retail Advertising Conference of Chicago and was conducted by Impact Resources, Columbus, Ohio. It sought to identify service leaders and the role that service plays in where people choose to shop.

The study found that Salt Lakers were second only to residents of Sacramento in the importance of service in their where-to-shop decisions - Sacramento 14.6 percent, Salt Lake 14.5 percent. Dan's Foods, with a 59.3 percent rating, emerged first among all grocery chains in those 19 cities. The survey interviewed 5,000 local residents.

Dan's Vice President Ted Gardiner credits "the family oriented culture" of the city for local residents' emphasis on service as a motivator and Dan's structure as a "family business" for its success in creating a superior service climate.

"It's been a tradition here since pioneer times that people take a neighborly attitude in their business," said Gardiner. "And it's the quality of our employees and the family attitude of our business" that put the chain at the top. "Employees see all our top executives on a weekly basis. They know we're not in an ivory tower back in California somewhere."

Impact Resources President Scott Sandberg said in a telephone interview that while service is only one of the five criteria that motivate shoppers, it may be the most important one. "A merchant already has to have good prices and selection and such before service can be a criterion," he said.

"Clearly," said Sandberg, "Nordstrom in Seattle, Emigh Hardware in Sacramento, Dan's Foods in Salt Lake City and Electra-gas Appliance Co. in Buffalo (all rated No. 1 in their various industries) are examples of retailers taking customer service to new levels in their respective industries."

The study also determined that the grocery industry is the most service sensitive industry in retailing - followed by department stores - and that consumers believe local grocers generally provide better service than national chains.

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