On Sundays, brothers Randal and Marcy LeBlanc, the owners of LeBlanc’s Food Stores, like to unwind by going into their stores, talking to employees and customers, stocking the shelves and working the cash registers. “They don’t fish. They don’t hunt,” daughter of Randal and Communications Director Brooke LeBlanc Knight says. “They just sell groceries.”
Although it may be uncommon for chain stores to have their CEO and COO working a cash register, it’s not at all unusual for the down-to-earth LeBlanc brothers. The two have expanded LeBlanc’s Food Stores from two to eight grocery stores in 15 years, serving the rural bedroom communities on the outskirts of Baton Rogue, La.
Their newest, 55,000-square-foot store is set to open in November. This marks the first time LeBlanc’s Food Stores has constructed a store from the ground up; past acquisitions were remodeled sites once owned by Winn-Dixie, which closed more than 150 stores and filed for bankruptcy in 2005.
The new LeBlanc’s location in Duplessis, La., was selected because of its high traffic volume and market research indicating a commercial need in the parish. The LeBlancs have an aggressive, 10-month start-to-finish construction timetable for the store. Its design is inspired by stores the brothers toured in St. Louis, Houston, Dallas and California.
The new store will feature a frais marche or “fresh market,” with salad bars, fresh olive bars, fresh fruit, and seafood, as well as expanded deli and bakery operations.
The second floor will have a mezzanine area with tables for eating and a classroom for cooking classes, wine tastings, catered events, public functions and civic club meetings.
The new location will be a milestone for the LeBlancs in several regards. Building a new store from scratch was the dream of the brothers’ late father, M. Paul LeBlanc. Also, the new store is located only three miles from the first LeBlanc’s Food Store, opened in 1961 by grandfather L.C. LeBlanc. Great-grandfather M.P LeBlanc also worked in the retail grocery business in the late 1800s, with his store selling “groceries, notions, feed and shoes.” Today, a fourth generation of the LeBlanc family, including Brooke and three others, works for the family business.
The North Ascension store will employ approximately 100 people, staffed by a combination of new employees and workers from other LeBlanc’s stores. This is creating opportunities for internal promotions that may not have otherwise existed, COO Randal LeBlanc points out.
The new supermarket – built at the site of a former truck stop, convenience store and gas station – is also generating a good deal of community excitement, the company says. But LeBlanc’s is not just building a new store.
The company also is refashioning existing stores, having remodeled three of them in the past 18 months with plans to remodel another next year. Brooke LeBlanc says the company likes to evaluate stores for renovations every five years “to keep them fresh, updated and clean.”
Big Bags of Rice
Rural Louisiana is a slightly different market from others elsewhere in the country. There tend to be larger families in the area, so “we sell a lot of 20-pound bags of rice,” Randal LeBlanc says. Overall, the stores stock bigger packaging to accommodate these larger households, he says.
The work ethic is also different in this area compared to the city. It remains a challenge “finding people with a passion for retail supermarkets,” LeBlanc says. For its newest store, LeBlanc’s Food Stores plans to hold multiple job fairs to attract qualified applicants.
Some changes in the market LeBlanc has noticed include the rising popularity of craft beer and a greater emphasis on healthy eating. The stores have responded by offering more specialty products.
“People are now eating better than ever,” LeBlanc says, and even standard meat, potato and rice customers are enjoying better quality cuts of beef and, in general, better quality food.
In the next five or 10 years, LeBlanc’s is aiming to continue expansion and may open stores in Baton Rouge or its suburbs, Randal LeBlanc says. LeBlanc’s is a member of the Associated Grocers Inc., a wholesale buying group. It purchases a large majority of its products through the Baton Rogue-based, 220-member buying group serving independent stores in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.