One thing that has not changed for humanity over time is the need to provide food for itself. What has changed, however, is how we go about doing it – from hunting in ancient times to the every day markets of the middle ages, small specialty stores at the beginning of the century and large chain supermarkets nowadays. Even within mammoth supermarkets, the way we learn about our food options and make our choices has changed drastically in the last 10 years.
Randy Joersz, owner of Wally’s Food Pride since 1999, aptly named after his father Wally, knows more than most people about the intricacies of food supply and demand. Joersz is a third-generation grocer following in his father and grandfather’s footsteps. The core of the grocery business continues to be about providing the best possible food to the customers at competitive prices, and provide great customer service, but how grocers are able to achieve that and attract customers has changed from the time of Joersz’s father and grandfather’s stores.
“When we talk about change [in the grocery store business], technology is what has changed the most,” Joersz explains. “We are able to do more data mining through our front end and that is where our loyalty program comes into place.”
The loyalty program Wally’s Food Pride implemented consists of a rewards card that gives customers five points for every dollar spent. The program was developed with the help of Loyalty Lane, a customer rewards program management company that focuses on increasing the bottom line of its clients through real-time reward transactions.
“It’s all automatic,” Joersz says. “Our registers are connected to the Internet and when someone shows their reward card, the points show up on the screen and they can redeem the points for rewards we have in the store.”
The promotions vary to keep the customer’s interest piqued. Some weeks, a reward can be free water. At other times, it’s a free meal from the deli or free gas, which is a very popular reward.
This reward system has proven fruitful thus far. “In the last three years, we’ve increased our sales by 15 percent,” Joersz explains. “I really have to credit Loyalty Lanes for our reward programs.”
Promoting his stores offers is only one of the goals Joersz set for himself. The other is staying connected to the community by making sure his stores have a positive impact on the community around him and the associates that work for him.
To keep that connection with the community, Joersz does as much business as possible with local food providers. “We’ll buy a lot of our produce from people who sell at the farmer’s market,” Joersz explains. The community focus extends to other types of businesses, as well. For instance, when the supermarket offers free gas with its reward cards, it partners with local gas stations to make sure the business remains in the community.
Another way Wally’s Food Pride maintains its dedication to the community is through its investment in its workforce. Over the years, Joersz went from managing 18 employees to 160, so the management issues grew more complex. Joersz wants to make sure the employees are excited to work at his stores, so he has put together a comprehensive compensation package with vacation time and health insurance as well as competitive salaries.
“We call ourselves promotionally exciting and community connected,” he says. “We want to be the best place to work and we also want to work with our fellow businesses. Like the local gas station that we contract to offer free gas.”
One year ago, Joersz implemented a new management method based on the Four Disciplines of Execution, which was developed by FranklinCovey. This philosophy takes management to the bottom by empowering employees to be in control of their decisions and take charge of their jobs. Following this method, he set up an initiative called “20/20” because employees are given 20 point-earning goals to work toward. When they collect 20 points, they earn $20.
“It’s their responsibility and it’s in the power to earn those points,” Joersz explains. “It has been very effective.”
Wally’s Food Pride also implemented a program called Help Us Get Sales (HUGS). “The associates carry a card in their pocket and, every time they help a customer to an item, they write where they escorted them and if the shelf was empty or not,” Joersz explains. “If it’s something the customer has requested and we don’t carry that item, we have them write that down too.”
Every month, the company measures the HUGS chart and applies the points to the 20/20 program. Not only has this program been fun for the employees, it has also improved customer service, which has increased the store’s customer count by 20 percent in the last year, according to Joersz.
“By putting HUGS in every aisle we were able to increase our customer count, while other businesses were struggling to maintain their numbers,” Joersz says. “Those programs are very important to us.”
Wally’s Food Pride expected its revenue to grow by 5 percent this year, but it hit that mark by August 2012 so it is now looking at an 8 percent increase by the end of the year with a potential for another 5 percent over that goal for next year.
The company, that went from earning $35,000 a year to $18 million in two decades, credits much of its success to partners like wholesaler Nash Finch Co., the second largest publicly traded wholesale food distributor in the United States.
“Wholesalers are only 30 percent of the success or failure of a retailer, the other 70 percent falls on the store owner and how he uses the tools the wholesaler gives him,” Joersz explains. “Nash Finch has been a great wholesaler for over 15 years and they have provided us with great tools to succeed.”
Although the company stills advertises in traditional venues like ad fliers in newspapers, it is planning on venturing into social media. “I believe social media will help us because right now we’re spending thousands of dollars a week in advertising,” Joersz explains.
Wally’s Food Pride will continue its partnership with Loyalty Lanes to explore the new marketing avenues of social media, like promotional texting, These and other strategic partnerships will allow Joersz to continue to expand and grow in the grocery store industry for many years to come.