Getting to Know Your 2020 IGA Hometown Proud Retailers

Jan 14, 2020

Each year, IGA asks its Licensed Distribution Companies to share their top IGA retailer for recognition as part of an elite group of IGA's very best U.S. retailers. 

This year IGA is honoring five retailers, each of whom was visited by the IGA corporate executive team last week to be presented with the 2020 IGA Hometown Proud Retailer award. At that time, a store evaluation team lead by IGA CEO John Ross and including IGA Senior VP Doug Fritsch and Laura Malisani, the current 2019 IGA USA International Retailer of the Year and co-owner of three Gary & Leo’s IGA stores in Montana, toured each of the independently owned stores to gather insights about the stores’ operations and customer experience.

"The five IGA USA Hometown Proud Retailers are the ultimate example of why independent entrepreneurialism is so important in this country," IGA CEO John Ross said. "Each of these winning retailers is far more than just a grocer. They are enterprising community leaders working with local farmers and makers to promote the fresh, local offerings unique to their area; mentors helping to develop skills and create careers for the people of their communities; and philanthropists giving back and supporting the economic development of the communities they serve."

Learn more about this standout group of independent retailers, and stay tuned to The IGA Minute later this month to learn which of the IGA Hometown Proud Retailers will be honored as IGA USA International Retailer of the Year alongside International Retailers of the Year from other countries at our Awards of Excellence Brunch this March. 

Robert Rybick

Geissler's Supermarket | Somers, Connecticut | Bozzuto’s Inc.

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When A.F. Geissler opened the first of Geissler’s supermarkets in 1923, he was one of the first in the industry to offer home delivery. Nearly a century later, the technology for home delivery has changed but A.F. Geissler’s trailblazing spirit lives on in the stores now operated by the fourth generation in Robert Rybick. In the last year, Geissler’s Supermarket has expanded their reputation as a hometown proud grocer to a leader in online offerings, Local Equals Fresh farm-to-store sourcing, and global flavors and culture. 

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Investing in Technology

As the first customer of one of the first online grocery shopping websites, MyWebGrocer, Geissler’s has a tradition of being ahead of the curve in using technology for customer convenience. In 2019, they optimized the store’s website for mobile, expanded digital marketing and social media efforts, and launched a catering website to provide more custom offerings to a larger client base, including corporate clients. Thanks to those upgrades, Geissler’s saw a 50 percent increase in website traffic. The new catering website has shown a near-instant ROI even during the no-marketing soft-launch phase, giving promise to 2020 expansion plans.

Those plans include revamping the Geissler’s e-commerce website, adding loyalty and CRM functions to their existing infrastructure to better connect with their customers, and partnering with IGA’s Business Optimization Pilot through Advay to focus their multi-platform marketing efforts and further develop their merchandising and e-commerce expansion. 

Local Equals Fresh

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Part of those marketing efforts include using social media to educate customers about their local partnerships, from family-made fresh mozzarella to an automated lettuce facility, and even charcuterie made a few miles away. They also highlight their Local Equals Fresh partnerships in-store, with signage noting these artisanal partnerships as well as farm-fresh produce, like their summer corn picked just hours earlier and dropped off before noon from a farm down the road.

Global Flavors with Chef Jay Lewis

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Geissler’s local partnerships take on a global theme thanks to their partnership with a local chef, Jay Lewis. They now offer regular demonstrations in front of the store with Chef Jay and his home-built smoker, digital media educational programming on global flavors and culture as well as local and global sustainability, and an offering of Baby Jay’s Errrr-Thang Spice, a local brand from Chef Jay. 

By investing in the people in their communities, from Chef Jay Lewis to the local farms and food providers, Geissler’s provides many unique offerings to their customers. Their investment in technology further aids their communities by making those offerings more accessible while helping the business look to the future.

Ron Martin

Grants IGA | Bluewell, West Virginia | Merchants Distributors, LLC

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Grant’s IGA Supermarkets, currently spanning 16 retail locations, is deeply invested in their communities throughout southern West Virginia and southwest Virginia. To save several communities from becoming food deserts after national chains exited the area, Grant’s stepped in to purchase and renovate those stores to provide a full-service grocery store—often the only one in these small towns. 

The leadership team is especially qualified to aid these communities, with Ron Martin helping grow the area through economic efforts as the mayor of Bluefield, West Virginia and overseeing the day-to-day operations of Grant’s IGA; Ronnie Cruey leads renovation efforts in the new locations and then leads the full-service and meat departments once the locations open; Randle Grant, who learned the business from his parents, founders W.R. and Cora Grant, brings years of experience and knowledge to the group. 

The team’s experience and dedication shine in their commitment to further supporting their rural communities through several fundraising and morale-boosting efforts each year. 

 

March Gradness, which raised $26,834 for 33 local high schools last March, asks customers to donate $1 at checkout and select a local high school to receive the donation. The schools use the money to help their seniors through Project Graduation, after-prom parties, senior trips, senior picnics, etc.

Operation Red, White, and Blue raised $26,029 last summer for local veterans and deployed service members thanks again to customer donations at check-out. Grant’s sent over 700 care packages to deployed troops last year; the money has also been used to send veterans to Washington, D.C. to see war memorials and to benefit the Fallen Warriors Foundation, which provides veterans with service dogs, installs accessibility ramps at their homes, and more. 

The 20 Days of Giving campaign has donated over 14,000 food bags to local food pantries, with Grant’s stores selling $5 bags of non-perishable foods that are then donated to that store’s local food pantry. Customers become especially competitive with this campaign, as the store selling the most bags each year receives a golden goblet, displayed proudly in-store.

To support local law enforcement, Grant’s organizes a Paint the Town Blue campaign each May, when the stores hand out blue ribbons for vehicles, sell blue lightbulbs for customers to put on their porches and turn on at night, employees dress in blue, and the stores offer brown bag lunches for local law enforcement. 

Chang So

Hollister Super IGA #2 | Hollister, California | C&S Wholesale Grocers—West Coast

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Hollister Super IGA has been a member of IGA for less than 10 years, but you would think they’ve been with IGA since the beginning. From ample in-store IGA signage and Exclusive Brands product offerings, using the IGA Coca-Cola Institute classes to better educate staff on best practices and products in their departments, and the team’s strong dedication to service within their community, Owner Chang So and the Hollister Super IGA team is IGA through and through, and it shows. 

Catering to the Community

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The Hollister, California store is designed with their primary demographic of Hispanic customers in mind, featuring a mural outside titled, “El sueño de la humanidad” (“The dream of humanity”), and colorful in-store decor, including piñatas. Among the vibrant colors is Local Equals Fresh signage throughout the large produce department, IGA signs on nearly every endcap, and every IGA Exclusive Brand product offered by their licensed distribution center, C&S Wholesale Grocers. 

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Hollister Super IGA ensures their store is stocked with local community favorites, including fresh seafood, a variety of fresh tortillas, and a large produce department. They work with Red Ovals like Anheuser-Busch and Coca-Cola to leverage promotions aimed at their demographic, ensuring their customers get great deals. They even found a way to reduce marketing costs while benefiting both customers and the store’s bottom line by running their flyer every other week, lengthening the sale period so shoppers can return multiple times for the specials. 

Employee Development

Store Owner Chang So values team participation, encouraging employees to share ideas for best practices and offering IGA Coca-Cola Institute training courses to staff to better understand the grocery business, develop stronger skills, and enact positive changes in the store. That encouragement among staff led to an employee suggestion to open the store entrance for easier customer access. The team moved a few checkout stands and produce tables, which resulted in a three percent increase in produce sales and multiple compliments from customers. 

Dedicated Staff

The Hollister Super IGA team goes beyond fundraisers to help their community (but they host those, too). Their store manager was named Woman of the Year for San Benito County’s League of United Latin American Citizens. Another team member was named San Benito County’s Honored Veteran of the Year, and many employees donate time to community organizations. So sits on the Retail Advisory Subcommittee led by the county’s Health and Human Services Agency to collaborate on ways to help their citizens become healthier. He has even been nominated as Man of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce, of which he is also a member. 

Leading by example, So has demonstrated an involvement in the community that is mimicked by his employees and appreciated by his customers. He embraces IGA’s resources and tools, from Institute classes to Exclusive Brands and signage, and advocates for his community through merchandising and ensuring access to national offers. 

Judy Gabriele

Nemenz IGA | Struthers, Ohio | Laurel Grocery Company

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Nemenz IGA has embodied IGA’s values from its founding in 1930. When Gustav Nemenz started selling his handmade sausage from home during the Great Depression, he was a true entrepreneur and artisan, partnering with local farmers and slaughtering and butchering the livestock himself. The entrepreneurial spirit lived on in his son Henry, who tested stores and side projects while maintaining his family’s supermarket. His daughter, Judy, and her husband, Don, now operate the store, continuing its tradition of offering local foods and products whenever possible, and now highlighting that practice through IGA’s Local Equals Fresh signage. 

Just as Gustav’s handmade sausage founded the business in 1930, Nemenz IGA is known for their departments where handmade foods shine. 

The Bakery

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Their bakery employs eight cake decorators and 30 people total, specializing in cakes and breads made in-store and from scratch. Their cakes are so popular, they often have over 100 special cake orders on a Saturday. The tradition began in 1980 when Henry visited Germany and hired a German Master Baker to join the team and teach the staff. Now, they bake 800 loaves of their fresh-baked bread per day. And don’t forget the paczkis! Last year for Fat Tuesday, the bakery moved out onto the sales floor, filling the traditional Polish pastry in front of customers. The event increased bakery sales by $2,000, selling approximately 3,000 paczki, and garnering four spots on the local television news. 

The Deli

Their deli and hot foods department offers hot and cold from-scratch items, like their famous Friday fish special, hot chicken, fresh and ready-to-bake pizzas, and other dishes that shoppers know they can only find at IGA. The handmade Saxon sausage (Gustav’s recipe), is a customer favorite and used by several local businesses and restaurants. 

Judy and Don have preserved the traditions started by Gustav and continued by Henry while leveraging IGA’s modern tools like the National Digital Ad and social media marketing initiatives to better serve their shoppers. They even used IGA’s recent webinar with Post to reset their cereal aisle, laying it out according to cereal categories—bagged, kids, family, adult—and cross-merchandising by adding a 4-foot toy section next to the bagged cereal. 

They continue to improve the store by updating equipment and aesthetic changes little-by-little, all while serving the community through the support of local churches, school and sports programs, community events, and sitting on various boards, including the Laurel Grocery Retailer Share Group, the Youngstown Area Grocers Board, and the Ohio Grocers Board, with Don being named a Struthers Rotarian and Paul Harris Fellow two times over.

Tyler Myers

 North Albany IGA | Albany, Oregon | UNFI—Tacoma

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When Tyler Myers opened the North Albany IGA store in North Albany, Oregon, he had ambitious goals. The store is the only independently-owned grocer in Albany. Their location—across the Willamette River from chain stores like Walmart, Costco, Safeway, Grocery Outlet, and more—was in a food desert where previous stores had failed or closed over the years. While the community needed a quality grocer on that side of town, how could an independent compete with the low prices afforded by national chains?

Myers’ strategic partnerships with IGA, ACE Hardware, and a local credit union brought his ambitious goals to fruition. North Albany IGA provides truly local and fresh foods to the community, educates the team through courses with the IGA Coca-Cola Institute, and exists as a convenient store for residents that offers a hardware store, credit union, and liquor store inside. 

Local Equals Fresh

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Myers and Store Manager Charlie McKessin have taken IGA’s Local Equals Fresh beyond the produce department. When building the store, Myers looked at each department and category to evaluate how to bring more local products into these areas. Thanks to that evaluation, shoppers can find a plethora of locally produced items, including pies, dairy, salsas, and meats. 

Employee Training

Myers and McKessin leverage training opportunities from the IGA Coca-Cola Institute, merchandisers, and vendor partners to educate employees throughout the year. Furthermore, the company shares store updates every Wednesday to provide learning opportunities and ideas among the team members. For example, after four employees attended the International Supermarket Management Class in September, they came back and presented several topics they learned during the class, with the store implementing a new best practice of bringing in vendors to meet shoppers and sample products. 

Convenience for Shoppers

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Myers designed the store with his shoppers’ convenience in mind. Walk in and you’ll find a local credit union in the front of the store so it’s easy to handle banking needs. The ACE Hardware encompasses about 30 percent of the store’s space, eliminating a trip to another store for quality hardware supplies. Myers’ team even petitioned for a state agency license so they could sell liquor on-site, and they built a separate liquor store for that offering (per state law). Shoppers simply can’t find that number of services and conveniences at another store. 

In building the North Albany IGA, Myers and his team eliminated a food desert and created a convenient, well-designed store beyond what shoppers could have anticipated. Thanks to those ambitious goals, local producers have an outlet for their goods and the community has everything they could want under one roof… and on their side of town. 

Honoring our winners 

 Make plans to join us in Nashville at the IGA Global Rally this March to see these retailers honored, and learn who will take home the additional title of IGA USA International Retailer of the Year! 

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