This C-store chain is known for its fresh-from-the-cow dairy products as well as its dedication to its employees and the communities it serves. Long before eat-local supporters began sprouting up across the country, Lochmead Dairy of Junction City, Ore. was selling fresh milk and dairy products directly to consumers. After managing the Lochmead Dairy farm for 25 years, Gladys and Howard Gibson opened the first Dari Mart convenience store in 1965.
Today, the Gibsons’ children and grandchildren continue the business, which has grown to 43 stores and a 1,200-Holstein-cow dairy farm where the family still produces all its own milk and cream products along with a line of ice creams.
Grandson Kurt Straube, operations manager for the Dari Mart chain, said the company has always emphasized its role in the local community when marketing its milk.
“Milk, especially, is a product consumers want to be sure is fresh. With almost 50 years of serving this community, we’re a trusted source for people who value the positive environmental impact buying local has and the better quality that comes with locally produced goods,” said Straube.
At Dari Mart, running a value-oriented business is equally important as providing fresh milk and dairy products. Kathy Gibson, director of operations and marketing for the company, cited four key tenets that guide the business.
One, of course, is to always be entrepreneurial: the company is eager to try new things and make changes. For example, the company established a reliable hot-food service a few years ago at many of its stores, and it frequently adjusts the offerings to match the amount of support available for the service in that community.
“We have learned how to balance flexibility with prudence, which is another of our core values, so the company is never spread too thin or leveraged at all,” said Gibson.
Straube explained that the chain is nestled between two mountain ranges. It wouldn’t be cost effective to make twice-weekly deliveries of fresh product with at least an hour of driving time unless the company purchased a cluster of stores. Rather than push the company beyond what it can handle, Straube, Gibson, and their team are waiting for the right opportunity.
Straube said that has always been the company’s growth strategy. “We’ve always focused on taking care of our balance sheet and positioning ourselves to take advantage of any promising location that becomes available,” he said.
He added that this strategy is especially important when considering the time-sensitive nature of dairy products. Dari Mart delivers products to all its stores bi-weekly and is able to make mid-cycle deliveries if necessary with fresh goods. Expanding the geographic footprint too far, would make that difficult and erode the local nature of the business.
Another core value is a hands-on attitude. For example, individual store managers are in charge of purchasing for their stores, using historical data to plan according to the time of the year and, of course, talking with customers about their needs.
In addition, Straube said the owners are constantly cycling through the stores, overseeing renovation projects, talking to employees, and listening to customers.
It’s that attitude, he said, that has contributed to the 10- and 20-year careers most senior managers and corporate employees at Dari Mart enjoy. Like any other retailer, the company sees a fair amount of turnover in its lower-level positions; the company hires a lot of students to work in the stores, for example. But once someone has been with the company for a year or more, he said, they stay.
“We have a great family atmosphere where anyone can share an idea or talk about a challenge,” he said.
The last core value guiding Straube, Gibson, and their team is respect for not only their employees but also for their cows, their land, and their community. That’s why Lochmead Dairy milk is made naturally, with no growth hormones or special chemicals.
Furthermore, this winter, Dari Mart began phasing out its plastic shopping bags and replacing them with Grab ’n’ Go Green bags. These reusable cloth bags cost shoppers $.50, and the shoppers receive a $.05 discount every time they bring the bag back to use again. All the proceeds from the sale of the bags from January 15th to February 15th, were donated to a local food pantry. Gibson estimated the company raised almost $15,000 dollars through the program, in addition to reducing waste in landfills.
Straube said he and his team are currently overseeing the installation of new transaction and self-service food station countertops and cupboards. The project will swap out older wooden surfaces for stainless-steel counters and new painted cabinets for a more modern feel. That is one of the many projects constantly going on across the Dari Mart chain as the team strives to provide a fresh experience for its customers.
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