It’s not just the chicken that’s air-chilled when Vince’s Market partner Giancarlo Trimarchi strides into the company’s newest store in Tottenham, Ont., a bedroom community of just over 7,000 about an hour north of Toronto.
He’s a few minutes late for our 2 p.m. appointment on this frigid January day, having made the 30-kilometre drive from the chain’s Newmarket location in white-knuckle driving conditions that include blowing snow and limited visibility.
I’ve used those extra few minutes to stroll up and down the aisles, checking out cool items like an intriguing red raspberry and pomegranate fruit spread from French brand St. Dalfour, as well as a $62 bottle of balsamic vinegar from Sarafino, the Uxbridge, Ont.-based importing and distribution company. There are also numerous other regional
products from suppliers including the Georgian Bay Granola Company and the King City, Ont.-based nut butter company Julia’s Best Ever.
The store is well stocked with items from the 10-year-old Vince’s Own brand as well, including a 900-ml jar of chili for $7.99, meatballs, and a wide variety of soups. Many of the Vince’s Own foods are made at the company’s 3,000-sq.-ft. commissary in Newmarket, which opened about 18 months ago and now produces up to 160 items per day.
Trimarchi, a former commercial banker who became a third-generation grocer several years ago, leads me on tour of the 14,500-sq.-ft. premises. Befitting Tottenham’s status as a bedroom community, the majority of the store’s business takes place from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, as well as on weekends. “We know how to slow it down Monday to Friday and make sure we’re running clean and efficient, and then ramp up for a good weekend of sales before repeating the cycle,” he says.
The store, which occupies what used to be an IGA location, is Vince’s fourth, joining other Ontario locations in Sharon (its first), Newmarket and Uxbridge. It was originally slated to open in January 2017, but what Trimarchi describes as “landlord delays” wound up pushing it back to September. “The building needed a lot of work, so what we originally thought was going to be a six-month [job] turned out to be over a year,” he says.
Trimarchi and his partners spent just over $2.5 million and five months building out the store, which is airy and modern, with high ceilings and wide aisles that showcase a well-curated selection of fresh foods. “A lot of it is clean lines and imagery that people relate to, but we wanted the food to do most of the talking,” says Trimarchi, noting that the new store will provide the template for future Vince’s Market stores—including the replacement store for its original Sharon location, set to open in 2019.
Although there were a few cost overruns, Trimarchi says they were judicious in how they spent their money. It’s this kind of thinking, no doubt, that helped land Vince’s Market on Deloitte/CIBC’s list of Canada’s Best Managed Companies in 2017. “I learned from my father [Carmen, who purchased the business from the Vince family in 1986] that every penny counts, and you want your money to go a long way,” says Trimarchi.
The dark “wood beams” that line the store’s ceiling, for example, are actually a digitally printed vinyl laminate wrapped around PVC. “The original thought was to do it with wood and MDF and plywood, but nobody’s going to see it [up close] and it’s a tenth of the cost,” says Trimarchi. He also hired a former employee-turned-illustrator to create some of the imagery for the various departments, such as the lemon tree that sits above the produce department.
The designers worked hard to make the store as welcoming as possible. Shelving units, for example, stand only 65 inches high (compared to 80 for most grocery stores), enabling customers to easily access products on the highest shelf. As an added bonus, the shelves’ low profile means customers can immediately identify every key department (meat, seafood, deli, etc.) from wherever they are in the store.
“One of the things our customers tell us is that the reason they shop with us is because our stores are not large,” says Trimarchi. “The first thing you think when you enter a store is, ‘Where am I going?’ You should be able to see a way-finding sign for any department no matter where you are.”Reflecting Vince’s longstanding emphasis on fresh, much of the Tottenham store’s footprint is taken up by perimeter sections such as produce, meat, dairy and deli, which account for about 70% of the total floor space. To accommodate those departments in a relatively small footprint, Vince’s has trimmed down the number of SKUs among centre-aisle staples such as soft drinks, water, paper towel and laundry detergents, focusing primarily on category leaders.
“If someone needs to come in and get dishwasher detergent and fabric softener, we’ll have it, but we’re only going to have one or two options,” says Trimarchi. “But if you want to come in and find an imported olive oil, we’re going to give you 12, 15, maybe even 20 options.”
There’s also an abundance of items from small regional producers that aren’t readily available in traditional stores, such as cookies from Southampton, N.Y.-based Tate’s Bake Shop; Ontario maple syrup from Trillium Ridge Sugarworks (a Vince’s supplier since 1988) and Fraktals handmade Belgian chocolate buttercrunch (an Aurora, Ont.-based company that sells $80,000 worth of product a year through the Vince’s network, according to Trimarchi). “I’ve got brands all over the store where I could say to you that we were their first grocery store,” says Trimarchi proudly.
Vince’s also continues to expand its home meal replacement offering, although for now it is focusing on what Trimarchi describes as “core items” like rotisserie chicken, lasagna, pre-cooked spareribs, etc. “It’s all simple stuff, but winners,” says Trimarchi. “We’re growing this with the approach that we’re not experts, but we’re going to learn as we go along.”
At 3 p.m., just as our tour is wrapping up, the in-store system blares out an announcement about “Quality Time.” Instituted by Trimarchi and his business partner Brian Johns about two years ago, the program requires every employee, whether they’re office staff or a butcher, to spend a few minutes sprucing up the store, making sure labels are facing outward, price tags are in the right place, the floors are free of debris and so on.
“It’s all the little things that kind of get away from you sometimes,” says Trimarchi. “We said to ourselves, ‘If we just had five minutes twice a day, this would never happen.’” Like the old quote says: you can’t rush perfection.
This article appeared in Canadian Grocer‘s February 2018 issue.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JAIME HOGGE