After 80 years in the business of selling groceries, the team at Brookshire’s Grocery Company has learned how to look at the big picture and take change in stride. Carefully in-tune with the communities it serves, this company shows how to succeed and grow even in the face of rising prices and a weak economy.

Rick Rayford

For the third year in a row, Brookshire’s won Texas Monthly’s Best Place to Work award. Rick Rayford, president and CEO, knows better than anyone how true that is. He started with the company as a bagger, moved up through its distribution department to the board, and has served as leader of the company since 2007.

“Brookshire’s is owned by the third generation of the family who founded it, and the culture here reflects that,” he said. “We treat each other like family, and the prevalent attitude is one that we’re all in this together.” 

He added that, in his experience, Brookshire’s offers limitless opportunities to grow and learn, which is why turnover is so low, and the company has earned recognition as the best local employer for the run of Texas Monthly’s award program.

Responsive infrastructure

With a strong team as the foundation, Brookshire’s has blossomed into a 156-store chain. Rayford said a great deal of the company’s profits is reinvested back into the stores, allowing the company to build new locations or replace outdated stores every year. This year, the company will finish four. Furthermore, Rayford makes it a goal to renovate or update eight to 10 stores each year to make sure they serve the current needs of their communities.

“We take each store individually and judge what needs to be done when so we can follow the movement and growth of the communities we serve. Flexibility is key because towns, cities, and people change, so even our brick and mortar stores need to be somewhat malleable,” he said.

Brookshire’s is currently experimenting with two brick-and-mortar prototypes, a Hispanic grocery called Olé Foods, and a discount store called Always Low Price Store, or ALPS. The two stores were old locations that the company decided to try something new with. Rayford said that while all the company’s locations offer something for all customers, many of its local competitors have Hispanic locations, so the company decided to give the concept a try.

Since the mid-1990s, Brookshire’s has also been adding as many pharmacies and gas stations to its stores as is appropriate. More recently, the company is emphasizing its perishable departments by making them the focal point of new and remodeled locations. And to those who know the company or remember its founder, W. T. Brookshire, it’s unsurprising how dedicated the company has been in the last few years to bringing energy efficient lighting and refrigeration equipment to its locations.

In the last five years, Brookshire’s has outfitted most of its locations with refrigeration controls to minimize the energy needed to keep food fresh. Rayford said future investments will include lighting controls and the installation of more skylights. That, he said, is part of Mr. Brookshire’s legacy.

“Mr. Brookshire was an avid outdoorsman, and, back then, that meant hunting. As he grew more successful, he traveled all around the world and brought back trophies. But he was a humble man and wanted to share the experiences his good fortune allowed him with others,” said Rayford.

Thus began the World of Wildlife Museum, an expansive natural history museum featuring more then 450 mammal, reptile, and aquatic species from around the world. There is no admission charge, and it also features a 1920s replica grocery store and a large playground, making it a favorite location for elementary school field trips. Rayford said the museum has hundreds of visitors daily and is widely acclaimed as a hidden gem of East Texas.

“The museum is one important and unique way that Brookshire’s serves the community,” he said.

New technology

Another way is through careful monitoring of consumer trends. When its customers wanted the convenience of a pharmacy or gas station when they bought groceries, Brookshire’s delivered. With rising food costs, many consumers are trading more expensive national brands for private labels, and the company is responding by maintaining the right mix of offerings. More energy efficient equipment helps the company limit how much cost it passes on to consumers.

This year also saw the launch of a new SAP total enterprise resource planning system to help the company evaluate results of programs or initiatives and keep the executive team better informed. The system, the first of its kind in any US grocery chain, went live in July, and Rayford said so far everything is working fine.

He explained how the company established a change management team to oversee and guide the process from its inception two years ago to implementation and training today. While there are a few hitches that need ironing out, so far, the system is doing a great job. According to Rayford, the biggest challenge has been training.

“Our people are great, and this technology is great. It’s just a matter of bringing the two together,” he said. “That’s where the change management team comes in. They’ve done an excellent job scheduling extra tutorials and one-on-one sessions to get everyone up to speed.”

He said the new system will be a great tool to help Brookshire’s continue to succeed in the business it has been succeeding in for nearly a century.

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