Weigel’s is updating its stores for millennials while holding onto the old-fashioned service and community involvement that customers expect.
By Tim O’Connor
To be a manager of one of Weigel’s Tennessee convenience stores, one must first be a Weigel’s employee. The company does not hire outsiders to run its locations. That restriction is one of the ways Weigel’s ensures its stores adhere it its customer service standards and rewards employees who embody its culture.
Weigel’s operates with a servant leadership philosophy. “We’re nothing without the team members that work in the store,” President Ken McMullen says. “They’re the heartbeat of the company.” Weigel’s executives see their job as to support the in-store employees. From the first day on the job, Weigel’s workers are instilled with the idea that they are one of the most important pieces of the company. If they come to Weigel’s with the mindset of making customers happy then they are in the right place, McMullen adds. “We really believe in our team members and they have a high level of empowerment to do what they need to do to service the customer.
Weigel’s prides itself as a convenience store company with old school values and a new school approach. “We are a premium store but we’re also your neighborhood store,” Charlotte Havely, director of marketing, says. “There’s a stereotype when it comes to a gas station. We defy that.” Every call to the company is still answered by a live person, a sign of Weigel’s commitment to customer service. At the same time, the company has invested in mobile apps and a loyalty program befitting of the digital age.
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Tobacco Superstore has become one of the largest cigarette and tobacco retailers in the United States.
By Alan Dorich
Tobacco Superstore Inc. creates a friendly atmosphere in each of its locations, CFO and COO Joe Marelle says. In fact, some customers frequent its stores because they are used to its employees’ friendly faces, he says.
Those employees not only wait on the customer, but go the extra step of asking them about their day. “[That’s true] especially in our small town stores,” Marelle says. “We try to create a neighborhood atmosphere for the adult consumer.”
Based in Forrest City, Ark., Tobacco Superstore has 88 locations in four states that sell cigarettes, vapor and electronic cigarettes, premium cigars, pipe tobacco, moist snuff, food and beverages. Founder David Cohn founded the company in 1993 with a vision of opening the largest cigarette and tobacco store in the South.
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Pennsylvania-based Dutch-Way Farm Market serves its community through quality initiatives, unique recipe offerings and excellent customer service.
By Stephanie Crets
Through quality initiatives and top-notch service, Dutch-Way Farm Market always wants to do right by the customer. The company does that by serving customers in its three locations in Pennsylvania: Myerstown grocery store and restaurant; Gap grocery store, restaurant and hardware store; and Schaefferstown grocery store and restaurant – all under the Dutch-Way banner.
Founded in 1972, Dutch-Way began as a farmer’s market that grew into a supermarket with a small, diner-style restaurant attached to the building. The current owners, Rich High, Cliff Snader and Jeff Snader, then purchased the Gap location in 1994 from the original owner, David Martin, and expanded to the other two locations in 2001.
“When they expanded and rebuilt the new Myerstown location, they went out on a limb based on some other local stores that had a larger restaurant attached to it; that’s where we started doing buffets,” Director of Operations Jason Bennett explains. “They saw an opportunity and wanted to continue to expand how we do business. As that grew and became successful, that’s when I got more involved running the Myerstown location.”
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Becoming an ESOP company fostered better commitment and nimbleness among Food Giant Supermarket’s employees.
By Tim O’Connor
When shopping at a Food Giant supermarket, it is not uncommon to see a meat cutter bringing shopping carts in off the lot. That’s because as an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) company, Food Giant’s associates share a vested interest in making the company succeed and, therefore, are more committed. “I believe there is no such thing as a small or unimportant job in a grocery store,” CEO Kevin Ladd says. “To be successful, it takes the effort of the whole team pulling in the same direction.”
Food Giant Supermarkets operates 108 locations in eight southeastern states. The 51-year-old company’s market ranges from Henderson, Ky., to the north, south to Woodville, Fla. Its grocery stores comprise several brands, including Food Giant, Piggly Wiggly, Cost Plus, Pick ‘n Save, Market Place, Sureway and Mad Butcher.
Ladd attributes much of the company’s success to its ability to retain employees. Some people have been working for Food Giant for more than 30 years. “I know it’s an old cliché and old adage, but we try to treat our employees the way we want to be treated,” Ladd says.
Being an ESOP company is a big part of why people have stayed with Food Giant. Employees began sharing in the company’s profits in 2000. “By virtue of being an ESOP at Food Giant, your neighbors truly are the owners,” Ladd says. “It’s helped us a great deal with employee retention.”
Because it’s an employee-owned business, Food Giant is transparent with its people. Division and store managers receive copies of the company’s financial statements and know exactly how well their stores are performing. Further, Ladd has an open door policy and encourages employees and managers to contact him with ideas. “Anybody in this organization can call me at any time. I’m more than willing to listen to them,” he says. Ladd understands that there are often alternative ways to get things done and letting people have a say makes them feel important to the overall operation. “We try to be creative, and we want our employees to be creative,” he adds.
As big grocery stores become more homogenized with the same products and aesthetics, Food Giant has differentiated itself by embracing its status as a neighborhood store. “We’re a big company but we’re not cookie cutter,” Labor Director Mike Riney says. “You can go into any store and it has a different atmosphere about it.” Locations range in size from 12,000 square feet to as large as 40,000 square feet.
“We try to know many of our customers by their first name,” Ladd says of the approach Food Giant aims for. Stores are designed to create a cozy atmosphere that customers find inviting. “We still operate like a small chain even though we have 108 locations,” Ladd adds. Despite targeting a neighborhood feel, Food Giant is large enough to take advantage of economies of scale and drive lower prices for customers.
Food Giant is able to create that neighborhood feel in its store because of the way the company is organized. The company has 10 division managers that are each responsible for a region. Those division managers have the autonomy to operate stores according to local tastes and preferences. Customers along the Gulf Coast don’t tend to buy the same items as those living in Kentucky, Ladd points out, and division managers need to be able to accommodate those differences. “We don’t have a lot of red tape or bureaucracy a division manager has to go through,” he adds.
In many towns, the arrival of big-box stores shut down smaller and independent grocery stores. Food Giant doesn’t want to go toe-to-toe with the Walmarts and Targets of the world. Instead, it focuses on providing the best grocery shopping experience possible so that it can be the last supermarket standing and fill that niche.
“We try to do what we do well,” Ladd explains. “We try to provide services at each store.” If a customer wants a different cut of meat, Food Giant can cut it for them. Try to find an employee willing to do that at the typical big-box retailer, where everything is prepackaged.
Food Giant also offers more fresh and hot food options than its competitors. Ninety percent of its stores have a hot food deli and many have fried chicken programs. Many rural communities have few restaurant options so Food Giant often fills that hot meal role. Register lines don’t get stacked up eight-people deep because the company works to get customers in and out as quickly as possible. Ladd describes it as, “providing customers with the best service possible.”
One of the biggest changes in recent years is the springing up of dollar stores. Chains like Dollar General are carrying larger selections of paper products, coffee, detergent, milk and produce – items that used to be exclusive to grocery stores. Food Giant combats that encroachment by educating consumers that product sizes are not comparable in many cases. The company also takes advantage of “deal buys” and other special pricing opportunities whenever possible.
Food Giant continually invests in its stores to maintain its advantage over competitors and refresh the shopping experience. Ladd says the company typically earns a better return on investment when it remodels existing facilities rather than building new ones.
The type of remodel varies greatly depending on the size of the store and the amount of work needed. Generally, Food Giant is moving toward more open floor plans and is looking for equipment and display cases that are more energy efficient. The company is using more bunker-style cases within aisles and is adding walk-in beer coolers.
“We intend to control merchandising in our stores, rather than turning control over to our vendors,” Ladd says. “This is not an easy thing to do, but we feel it’s important we decide what is on our end caps and which products are allocated to the prime retail spaces.”
Food Giant’s investment in the shopping experience coincides with a technology upgrade effort. A partnership with NCR Corp. is helping Food Giant streamline its procurement to reduce costs and pass the savings on to consumers. A new scheduling program is also being tested at several locations that uses software to help store managers realign employees based on where the need is at different times of the day. Ladd says Food Giant is constantly exploring technology that can make the company more efficient.
Food Giant’s future doesn’t necessarily lie in the number of stores it can open, but the value it can return to its employee owners. When the company does acquire a new location, Ladd says it looks for a store that already has a strong team in place, a good ratio of sales per square foot and favorable rent factors.
After a buyout, Food Giant prefers to keep the store open during the transition and minimize disruption to avoid training customers to shop elsewhere. “We’re always on the lookout for new stores,” Ladd says. “We want to grow but we want to grow smart.”
T-Mobile eliminates industry pain points and gets closer to customers.
By Alan Dorich
It’s not often that a company sparks a revolution, but T-Mobile USA Inc. believes it has, Vice President of Merchandising & Store Development Sarah Osmer says. The wireless network operator has sought to change the way its industry operates with its “Un-carrier movement,” she says.
Based in Bellevue, Wash., the company provides wireless voice, messaging and data services to approximately 63 million customers and has more than doubled its LTE footprint to reach 305 million Americans.
This incredible momentum began in 2013, when Osmer notes, T-Mobile kicked off its Un-carrier movement to free customers from pain points such as overages and annual service contracts.
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A pioneering history of being the local supermarket of choice has Marsh Supermarkets poised to build off a strong legacy.
By Eric Slack
Marsh Supermarkets is built on tradition and innovation. Founded in Muncie, Ind., in 1931, Marsh celebrates its 85th anniversary in 2016. Today, the company operates 72 stores in Indiana and Ohio, 38 with pharmacies.
“The Marsh family owned the company until 2006 when it was acquired by Sun Capital Partners, who continue to own it today,” Chief Merchandising and Marketing Officer David Kuncl says. “Marsh has primarily been an Indiana- and Ohio-based company, growing through multiple, small acquisitions. We’ve always been known as the local supermarket with a tradition of quality, service and innovation.”
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Arlan’s Market continues its expansion during its 25th anniversary year as it remodels its grocery stores in Texas.
By Russ Gager
Those looking for evidence of the importance of independent grocers in Texas need look no further than Crestview, a neighborhood of Austin. There, a neighborhood association closed off half the parking lot of an 11,000-square-foot grocery store founded in 1953 on the occasion of the owners’ retirement and the purchase of the business by Arlan’s Market, an independent grocery chain headquartered in Seabrook, Texas, near Houston.
“There must have been 400 or 500 people who showed up,” President Ames Arlan estimates. “The family run grocery store is very dear to the community, so they really came out in full support and did a really nice barbecue. The mom still worked here up until the last day – she’s 85 years old – and her sons worked here all their lives. One of the sons has been working there since he was 12 and he’s 65 now. So the entire family is retiring.”
Arlan’s Market is in the process of remodeling the store. “It’s our smallest store, but in a really neat neighborhood,” Arlan says. “It’s going to be a great opportunity for us to add a lot of organics, specialty items and new refrigerated cases. Most of the homes were built in the 1940s and ’50s. People have lived here since the 1950s and ’60s, and younger people are moving in.”
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Becoming a part of the communities it serves is a vital part of the Orchard Supply Hardware formula for success.
By Eric Slack
California-based hardware retailer, Orchard Supply Hardware (OSH) has been serving West Coast neighborhoods for more than 80 years. Founded in 1931 as a purchasing cooperative, today Orchard Supply Hardware operates neighborhood hardware and garden stores focused on paint, repairs and the backyard. Orchard Supply Hardware was acquired by home improvement retailer Lowe’s in September 2013 but remained a separate business unit. The hardware retailer currently operates 81 stores in California and Oregon with each store averaging approximately 40,000 square feet of retail space.
“We are most known for our neighbors-helping-neighbors philosophy at every store, which is a commitment to fitting our format into the neighborhoods we call home,” President Bob Tellier says. “Our stores have been opened in former car dealerships, bowling alleys, multi-unit facilities and other shuttered facilities.”
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