After nearly 50 years, Lueken’s Village Foods maintains the standards of its late co-founder, Joe Lueken. “He was renowned in our part of the world for his integrity, honesty and work ethic,” President and CEO Brent Sicard says. “That’s been really [the key to] our success.”

Based in Bemidji, Minn., Lueken’s operates three family owned supermarkets in its home city. Joe Lueken and his brother started the company in 1966 and gradually “built it up from nothing,” Sicard says. 

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The word “innovation” has a very simple meaning: a new idea or method. It’s the ability to look at something and figure out how to do it better, faster and sometimes cheaper. Although many of today’s new ideas arrive with great fanfare and shareholder frenzy, often it’s the simple things that have the most impact on a business and its customers. 

So how do you create the optimal climate for creative thinking that solves problems and pushes boundaries? At the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), one of the biggest purchasers of beverage alcohol in the world, Executive Vice President Dr. George Soleas says you focus on the strengths of your people instead of trying to fix their weaknesses, and you let their ideas be heard.

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Doris Italian Market & Bakery’s biggest business challenge is one that is well known to many of the “little guys” – the family owned, regionally based supermarkets doing their best to find their place in a retail market dominated by large national corporations. “We’re constantly fighting for our piece of the pie,” says Joey Alfano, operations manager of the Hollywood, Fla.-based specialty supermarket. “Our success has been a result of focusing on our niche market and being different and refreshing to our customers. That’s how we keep them coming back to us instead of going to bigger supermarkets.”

The market offers its customers a level of expertise and personal attention that is often difficult to find in its larger competitors. “Our employees are knowledgeable about our products and are able to assist customers with questions or offer helpful advice,” Alfano says. “They will go the extra mile to make customers satisfied. 

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In 2008, when DLR Restaurants LLC President and COO Ralph McCracken was researching the purchase of Dick’s Last Resort with the investment group Triton Pacific Capital, he would strike up conversations with people sitting next to him on airplanes who had visited one of the irreverent chain’s distinctive locations.

“The first thing they did was smile, and they had some kind of crazy story,” McCracken recalls. “They never remembered what they had to eat, but they remembered they had a great time.” That pretty much sums up the experience of eating at Dick’s Last Resort.

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The mission of the Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services (CFMWS) is to enhance the morale and welfare of the military community, thus contributing to the operational readiness and effectiveness of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). As one of the four main operational entities of CFMWS, the Canadian Forces Exchange System (CANEX) has been fulfilling a crucial component of that mission by providing CAF servicepeople and their families with retail outlets and other services on military bases for more than 45 years. 

“We’re here to support the CAF community and in doing so have modernized our mission and competitive strategy in an effort to optimize our retail infrastructure,” Associate Vice President of Marketing Diana Sousa says. CANEX continues to develop new ways to serve and benefit the men and women of the CAF and their families, and Sousa says maintaining a strong connection with the community has assisted in achieving this for so long. 

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Whether selling direct-to-consumer or developing its own products, the team at C&A Marketing is successful because of its vision, commitment and creativity. “There’s no magic at play,” Executive Vice President Chaim Pikarski says. “People believe I have a secret formula, but it’s just about doing a lot of things right.”

C&A Marketing is the exclusive manufacturer, engineer, distributor, developer and marketer for Polaroid brand photography equipment and accessories. The company operates other photo businesses such as Ritz Camera and Image, RitzPix, Wolf Camera, Inkley’s Camera World and Calumet Photographic. It distributes tens of thousands of SKUs online and at 15 retail locations including its Ritz, Wolf and Calumet brand stores.

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Treat people well and they’ll come back – that is the secret to Brandi Companies success. “I’m a firm believer that if you treat a person like you want to be treated you will have success,” President Bob Brandi says.

The company operates 32 Pitt Stop gas stations within a 20-mile radius of Columbia, S.C. The company also has 19 locations with Burger King franchises, five with Subways and five Blimpies. Its locations distribute Shell and ExxonMobil petroleum. 

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When Intersport International (IIC) acquired The Athlete’s Foot in 2012, the parent company knew early on that the potential for growth was great. But instead of embarking on a sprint, the company, which now owns retail banners INTERSPORT and The Athlete’s Foot, approached the task as more of a marathon. 

“IIC is not a boom-and-bust type of organization; it has always had the long-term in mind,” explains Ingmar Kraak, global CEO of The Athlete’s Foot. “This is not a public company that has to answer to Wall Street with quarterly reports; it actually has a background as a co-op, a buying group. So when they acquired The Athlete’s Foot, they wanted to make something great out of it.”

Read more: The Athlete’s Foot

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