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Brothers Tracy and Stan Dilworth—owners of two Five Star IGA stores in Northeastern Georgia—credit constant change as the secret to their success. For proof, just look to the largest project in the company’s history: a major renovation to their Lavonia location, which took place last year.
Redesigned with the shopper experience in mind, the Dilworths are already seeing some industry recognition for their efforts, recently receiving a 2019 innovation award at the IGA Global Rally, as well as a Remarkable Independent Award from Winsight Grocery Business, which was given for the revamped store’s “Masterful Merchandising.”
Speaking at the Global Rally, IGA CEO John Ross talked about the shopper-centered redesign. “They’ve created an incredible experience in a store that was already great, under the premise of ‘If I listen to my shopper and anticipate what they want, I’ll continue to grow my sales not just today but over the next ten years and beyond.’ I’m sure it will pay off for them.”
The remodel involved adding 13,500 square feet of extra space, including 8,000 square feet of sales floor. Every part of the store was impacted at some point, with the entire store getting rewired and plumbing updates, said Tracy Dilworth, but they miraculously managed to stay open through the entire six to seven month process, at times having to close or relocate departments and the loading area. The toughest weeks were during the facade rebuild, but overall foot traffic and customer count stayed steady, said Dilworth.
“The MVP in the remodel has been the staff. They stuck with us through thick and thin, all the inconveniences. We literally kept our staff intact and added about 22 percent more staff,” he said.
Once all the finishing touches were in place, the store celebrated with a week-long grand re-opening and tasting event, where they brought in vendors, gave out lots of samples of new signature items, and held prize drawings.
“During that week we had record sales and record traffic. And overall since then customers have been very receptive and sales are up 25 percent,” Dilworth reported.
The driving force behind the remodel was the desire to emphasize Dill’s fresh, local offerings, scaling up the perimeter and trimming back on center store.
“Here in northeast Georgia, we’re finding that local—whether it’s produce or protein or the local specialty items in our deli—is moving up the charts of importance for why a customer picks your store,” said Dilworth. “Our shoppers have a vested interest in buying and supporting local because nearly every family has someone who works in the beef or poultry industry.”
As a result, the Dilworths make it a priority to buy and support local, and host several events throughout the year to highlight local and regional products. The most popular are locally-sourced truckload meat sales and an annual tomato event promoting the first regionally-grown tomatoes of the season. For both events they put signage throughout the store to maximize shopper awareness and also prep team members so they can talk in detail about the products and producers.
In addition to sourcing local products, Dill’s has built a reputation for its deli and catering offerings—always made in-house from their own recipes and with local products. “Churches, schools, fire departments, municipalities all come to us for catering because we have a number of specialty products the community loves. In fact, we have independent caterers who serve our fried chicken, and they don’t hide the fact that they’re doing it because people are requesting it,” said Dilworth. “And of course, there’s also Martha’s sweet potato casserole named after our deli manager of 20 years, and our peach cobbler—if we took it off the bar we’d have a mutiny on our hands.”
In addition to the physical changes recently undertaken, the team at Dill’s also makes sure to keep up with changes in the digital realm. “We’re constantly looking for new ways to market and promote the business to attract new customers,” said Dilworth.
In business for three generations, the Dilworth family is building on decades of growth that started in 1935 when C.D. Dilworth built a 500-square foot wood slat structure in rural Red Hill, GA. More than 83 years later, Dill’s Food City has grown to more than 150 employees, and the Dilworths were one of the 2018 IGA Hometown Proud Retailer finalists.
Tracy Dilworth sums up their family’s plans going forward: “As our fourth generation has now entered our workforce, our goal for the future is to keep up our father’s motto to “leave it better than we found it.”