Q: Your stores are known as exciting and fun places to shop. What’s the secret to providing that experience day in and day out?
I’d point to the culture we have at our stores. And that really took off the day I hired our human resources manager, Marsha Nettle. She took our team to a new level, nurturing them, creating this ownership of the business by our team. They are not just employees. They feel they are part of the business. I get so many compliments from people about the experience they get in our stores and it really tickles my heart when I hear that. How do we do it? Constant reinforcing and guidance and training and development of our team. We don’t have a budget that spends money on conventional advertising. But dollar for dollar I’m sure we spend more money on the development of our team than most stores.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge facing grocers today?
The onslaught of the big corporate chains, who are gaining strength and momentum, which makes it harder for independents to differentiate themselves. You can’t do it on price alone. You have to offer much more.
Q: You’ve spoken about the importance in retail of turning buyers into believers. What do you mean by that and how can it be accomplished?
There’s no overnight formula to turn a customer into a loyal customer. It can take months or years to turn a customer into an evangelist for your business, who loves you so much they’ll tell the world about you and think about going nowhere else. For us we’ve always believed in connecting with emotions and building this whole incredible experience when they come into the store.
Q: What’s the smartest thing you ever did in your business?
I’ll go back to what I said about bringing in a human resources manager. We now have three human resources managers for a workforce of 300 people. People think that human resources managers are only about hiring and firing, but in our organization it goes a lot deeper. They work individually with every department manager, finding out what his needs are, how to develop staff and how they can help develop programs specifically
for the manager’s needs.
Q: How has the grocery industry changed since you got into it, for better or for worse?
It’s hard to say better or worse. What I would say is in the old days life and business were a lot more simple. A mom and pop could run a store and keep all the plates spinning that they needed to run their business. Today it’s more complicated.
Q: Being a store manager is one of the toughest jobs out there. What makes a great one?
A great manager has got to have a multi-tasking mind that also can be very focused when it needs to be. The demands on you from every level–customer, inventory and staffing–are giant. But I do believe that if you can get to the level of being a department manager or a store manager, it will set you up for life. You could then move to any other industry, because there’s no better training than the grocery business.