Ray Dietrich, former owner of Rivertown IGA, faced many tests in his 34 years as an independent grocer, but one his greatest might have been dealing with the Ohio River flood in 1997 that decimated Cincinnati’s southern border. But he still felt he had a duty to get food to people's homes.
Dietrich braved the 8-inch-high water around the floodgates to his store and helped the National Guard carry out groceries to deliver to the community, according to the store's Facebook post.
He stayed overnight at Rivertown IGA for 10 days to ensure the power stayed on and he could serve the community's needs at a moment's notice. That community connection helped his store become the beloved institution it is today.
But 2022 brought the end of an era. It was time for Dietrich to retire. While he says it was tough for him to hang up his hat, he knew the path forward.
"The store needs a young and ambitious individual to carry on the business of Rivertown IGA, and I think I've got just the man," Dietrich said about new owner Lance Sizemore in his video address
, adding, "He cares about the customers, he cares about customer service. I know he'll take care of the people that work here."
So Dietrich handed the business over to Sizemore, who is quite the local businessman in New Richmond, Ohio. Look down Old U.S. Highway 52 and you'll a see host of Sizemore's businesses, including a Papa Johns, Ace Hardware, and Anytime Fitness, and now Rivertown IGA, all within walking distance of each other.
33rd Anniversary Celebration
Sizemore celebrated Rivertown's legacy with his first big "blowout sale" for the store's 33rd anniversary on January 1st with several items on sale as low as $0.33. The celebration was a success, with store sales up 40% from the same day last year and selling roughly 650 of those sale items.
Sizemore was confident in the approach, as he has used similar pricing strategies in his other businesses that proved to be successful. The store advertised with their New Year’s Blow Out Sale flyer in print and on digital channels.
Social Media Sensation
Sizemore is intent on keeping much of Rivertown IGA's charm, including their popular parody music videos — many have gained tens of thousands of views on social media.
Songs like “Addicted To Us,” "Meat Sale Man," and "Paranoid Grocery Shopping" take classic rock tracks and add lyrics of the many offerings provided at Rivertown IGA. But they also keep customers informed, like providing an update on their baby formula supply during the shortage, launching online ordering, and boasting their fresh produce offerings.
This is all possible with the help of Social Media Manager Mike Carr, who is also the lead singer in the videos. Carr is a local musician who not only films and produces the videos, but also records all the instrument tracks and vocals. It’s a role that comes naturally to Carr, who has achieved success in the music industry as the One Man Electric Band, after years of touring and opening for powerhouse bands like Journey, Kiss, and Mötley Crüe.
“It’s a tough market out there for an IGA competing with the likes of Kroger, Walmart, Meijer, Aldi, and others. Print ads get lost in the driveway inside the bag of big store ads. TV and radio ads are not in the budget,” Dietrich said. “These videos get a huge response from the locals as we try to entertain them. Our customers love them and talk them up over the back yard fence, barbershop, etc. Which is exactly what any business hopes to achieve with advertising: the buzz!”
A parody music video for Rivertown IGA's quarterly meat sale featuring Vinny Appice, the drummer of Black Sabbath.
Retaining a Good Team
Along with his stellar social media manager, Sizemore is proud of the store's managers and associates. “I definitely inherited a very good team here – very strong. It's been fun working with them,” he said.
Taking care of department heads and associates has been key for retaining his workforce.
“Once I took over, I instituted a profit-sharing of bonuses with all the department heads and that's gone over really well with them,” he said. Hosting holiday events like Christmas parties and team building events have been important measures as well.
Just as Dietrich brought new technology to the store when he took over, investing in computers and scanners, Sizemore has already launched a new online shopping program with Instacart that allows the store to cater to busy shoppers. And he has already started repainting inside the store and plans a renovation for 2023, including new cases and checkout lanes.
He says these improvements are an effort to show appreciation to the many loyal customers he now gets to see on a daily basis.
“The customers and the community have been great," Sizemore said. "Just the support they give us when there are Kroger's and Walmart's everywhere around and you're still choosing to shop local is appreciated.”