Lake Region IGA Looks to the Future in a Resort Town

Jan 30, 2019

"We've always been about 10 to 15 years behind the trend," Jim Shook, Lake Region IGA owner and International Retailer of the Year candidate, says about the vacation destination town of fewer than 2,000 full-time residents. While the town itself might be a little behind, the store is looking to the future. Shook has his nose on the trends, implementing improvements aplenty across the store—some technical, some complicated, some easy—all in the name of customer satisfaction.

Text the Deli

TextDeliLake Region IGA’s Text-to-Deli program allows shoppers to text in their deli orders, which come in as emails. The staff verify the order and message the shopper to confirm, and then the shopper just heads to the refrigerator to pick up their orders.

For example, take their Text-to-Deli initiative. "That has been the biggest best practice that we've ever done that has been successful," says Shook. He was already looking to reduce their deli wait time when a customer casually suggested how great it would be to simply text in their order. Shook found a service online and within two weeks, the initiative was up and running. He says that while he doesn't think it generated any new customers, it satisfied existing customers, with locals texting in about 30 to 40 orders a day. "It's been extremely successful and that's the one comment I get even after two years—local customers saying it's the best thing we've ever done," Shook says.

Online Shopping

While the Text-to-Deli offering was easy to get going, the hardest has been online shopping. Shook says fine-tuning the process is one of the most difficult challenges for him. "The logistics are what scares me," he says. There are a lot of moving pieces—ensuring the order is correct before it leaves the store, that the products stay the right temperature, that they arrive on time—and these hurdles become especially challenging in Lake Region IGA's rural location, where each delivery might be five or more miles apart.

They're in beta testing now, delivering to employees and long-time customers, rewarding their patience by offering $15 off their first orders and providing free delivery. To Shook, ensuring a great experience for the customers is key. He says, "Until you go 100 percent live, you won't know if you've got the hard parts worked out or not. We want to make sure we have it as accurate as possible before we go live."


Shook embraces technology to ensure a better experience for customers. While some might think technology could lead to a less personal and therefore negative experience, Shook weighs the advantages and disadvantages before moving forward with technology. For instance, he has ordered and will soon be installing four self-checkout lanes to better serve his customers.

"My staff and management, we struggled with the idea because we are very Hometown Proud; we're very proud of our customer service and our interaction with our customers," Shook explains. Employees feared they would lose their jobs and the store would suffer a disconnect with customers. "That's certainly not the case," Shook clarifies. "In today's society, consumers are used to that and they're looking for it. They're looking for a quick in and a quick out, not necessarily always connecting with someone when they're shopping."

He has also found that the self-checkouts will fill gaps in shifts when an employee calls in sick. And no one will lose his or her job. They will be able to add a net of three more registers to their total while keeping the same number of cashiers, all while improving the customer experience.

ShookSushiLake Region IGA added a sushi department in recent years, which has been a hit with locals and vacationers alike. 

Redefining Jobs for Millennials and Beyond

Shook continues to invest in the future of his store—not just with technology, but also with employees. In fact, it's one of his proudest accomplishments. When asked, he says, "I've always prided myself and this business on the fact that we maintain a longevity of employees."

For proof, look at the employees at this store—five have been there since the store opened in 1987. Several others are in their 50s and 60s. But Shook has seen a shift in younger generations entering the workforce and has struggled to find quality replacements.

"The environment is changing drastically," Shook elaborates. "The Millennials and the younger generations that are coming in have a different approach to working than we had 30-40 years ago."

Rather than complain and resist, Shook tries to understand the shift. "It's not that it's a bad thing, but you have to adapt your business to it," he says. "If you try to force a new employee in the workforce to work the old way, they'll leave. So, you're better off trying to communicate with them and have them understand the necessities of business and have them appreciate it as opposed to not working with them. " 

As Shook has learned more about the younger generations, he has changed his hiring process to better serve them by updating the job descriptions for every department to include all possible requirements upfront.

"What we've found is that if you explain to them what's involved in the work, they're more apt to be more acceptable to it before they start working the job, as opposed to, 'You didn't tell me when you hired me that I'd have to do that,'" he says.

It was a time-consuming project, but by updating the job descriptions, Shook demonstrates his acceptance of a new generation of employees, regardless of their differences from previous generations. In turn, he helps his store move forward. Coupled with the technological upgrades he has invested in, he continues to ensure his customers will find a store filled with well-trained, high-quality employees and technology that makes their shopping experience better and easier.

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