After 46 successful years, this supermarket chain meets its customers’ needs by continually going back to basics. Since its founding in 1962, B&R Stores has maintained a high level of success by keeping it simple. “We meet our customers’ needs to increase our sales,” said Larry Elias, director of sales and merchandising. “We’re very sales focused, and we’re very customer focused. Those two things go hand in hand.”

The B&R Stores family includes conventional and high-quality supermarket Russ’s Markets, named for founder Russ Raybould, the company’s chairman. His son, Pat Raybould, is now president of the company. The company’s second store concept, Super Saver, is B&R’s price impact store format, with seven locations in Nebraska and one in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Always Low Price Store (ALPS) is the company’s third store concept, with a smaller format, limited SKUs, and most general merchandise priced at $1. 

Although each of these store concepts are differentiated by their product offerings, each is tied together by the company’s ability to understand its markets and customers and tailor its products to the needs of its communities. 

Because B&R recognizes it has customers looking for high levels of service in convenient locations with top quality products, it developed Russ’s Markets. And because it recognizes there are families out there looking for low-priced and high-quality products, it developed Super Saver.

Part of B&R’s ability to understand what its customers want and need also comes from the structure of the stores’ management teams. Even within each store concept, no two stores are the same because store directors, many of who are also employee owners, have the power to take ownership for their stores. 

“They are given the flexibility and responsibility to understand their local customers’ needs, to meet those needs through merchandising, and to work with our home office merchandising team to offer the products they know their customers want,” said Elias. “That is the tie that binds our stores together; it’s the desire to meet all of our customers’ needs.”

Brand differentiation

In recent years, B&R recognized that there were customers looking for—and willing to pay for—high-quality items. And even with the Russ’s Market concept going strong, the company realized it was underselling to the growing number of shoppers looking for organic, natural products and specialty items. 

But as the company began to introduce more of those foods to its Russ’s Markets and Super Saver stores, it saw the need to differentiate the two brands, helping to guide future mainstream customers in the right direction and showing its specialty shopper customers it’s dedication to their needs as well. 

B&R started in the bakeries, delicatessens, and meat and produce departments of its Super Saver and Russ’s Market stores, differentiating how it goes to market with its breads, hot foods, meats, and produce by carrying different products in both stores to create unique store concept identities. So although its bakeries are still scratch-based products, meaning they’re made and baked right there in the store, French bread has become a signature bakery item in the Super Saver stores, while Italian bread is the main thrust for Russ’s Markets. 

“The differences in the stores are not only the way the products are priced and whether you get your groceries carried out one or you bag them in the other but also more distinct product offerings,” said Elias. 

B&R remodels its stores on a cyclical basis, so it took the opportunity with its Russ’s Markets and Super Saver stores to develop distinctive looks and feels as well. Elias said the response from customers have been positive, and, even in tough economic times, “we’re continuing to see increasing sales in the Russ’s Market stores. That tells us we’ve made the right decision.”

Better at the basics

Along those same lines, B&R developed Better Basics, what Elias refers to as a way for B&R to “be the best at getting better at the basics.” Neither a marketing nor an advertising program, Better Basics is a way for the company to examine its processes, procedures, and products internally, testing out the waters of innovation inhouse before unleashing to the general public. 

Better Basics begins with a core team comprising Elias himself; the department directors for bakery, deli, produce, and meats; and store-level “lead” department managers, one from Super Saver and one from Russ’s Markets. Rounding out the team is an outside consultant. Whether testing new products, revising formulas, or examining merchandising, the Better Basics team reviews what’s happening in each of the four departments, using each as a laboratory of sorts to make changes and improvements. 

“When we have the product or program the way we want it, and, if it works, we do a roll out where we bring our department managers and our store directors into our Better Basics department to do a training, a roll out, and then a follow-up certification process to certify that they’re implementing the new product and/or process correctly,” said Elias.

The French and Italian bread rollouts at its Russ’s Markets and Super Saver stores are one example of how Better Basics has improved B&R’s offering. Before rolling out the changes to customers, B&R gave each employee a loaf of one of the breads for free, explained why it was better than the competition, and asked them to pass along their experiences to their customers once the products were rolled out. 

“We improved the basics, built the foundation, and then promoted it to our customers with an extensive advertising and sampling program,” said Elias. “Our hard bread sales are up significantly, and that’s one of the main items of the department, so if we can sell more of those items, we can get customers to come back to the department and have the opportunity to merchandise other varieties of products for them to buy.”

Recognizing the need

Another area in which B&R strives to improve is in its attention to green initiatives. As it remodels its stores, it implemented the most energy-efficient models of refrigeration and lighting systems, including using LED exterior lighting when possible. The company was one of the original members of Buy Fresh, Buy Local, an organization that promotes sustainable agriculture from local farmers, and many of its stores have recycling drop offs for plastic bags as well as recycling centers for customers to drop off other recyclable materials. 

The company also has an open dialogue with local utilities Omaha Public Power District and Lincoln Electric Co-op to ensure it’s aligning with energy best practices to both save money and promote eco-friendliness. “We don’t have the extremely high utility costs that many other parts of the country have, but we recognize the need to conserve it,” said Elias. “It’s just another way in which we’re working to align ourselves with the expectations and needs of our customers.”

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