A Q&A Session With Brookshire’s Rick Rayford
‘We look forward to growing in Louisiana’
Rick Rayford, president and CEO of Brookshire Grocery Co., recently chatted with The Shelby Report about business and more.
Tyler, Texas-based Brookshire’s currently operates 26 Brookshire’s and 19 Super 1 Foods stores in Louisiana, between Shreveport and Lafayette.
Rayford joined Brookshire Grocery Co. in 1972 and spent 20 years in various areas of warehouse and distribution leadership. He became president and CEO in 2007 after serving as EVP of distribution/manufacturing and EVP of corporate development. He has two daughters and seven grandchildren.
Q: Give us a snapshot of the types/sizes/banners you operate in Louisiana.
The sizes vary, but our Super 1 Foods stores are typically larger because they are a warehouse-type store, focused on value. Our Brookshire’s stores focus more on customer service.
Q: Update us on store growth your company has experienced over the last year.
Over the last year we have been very busy opening new stores and remodeling others. During 2013 we have celebrated nine remodels in Louisiana, with one more in progress. We also acquired four Louisiana Kaye’s Food Stores and have converted three of those to Brookshire’s and one to Super 1 Foods.
Q: What plans have you announced for store growth/remodeling in the upcoming year?
We have many projects and initiatives under way that will allow us to improve facilities. We will continue to update our stores and systems using technology and other resources to improve our operations.
Q: Update us on the services you are focusing on in newer stores—expanded produce, bulk items, prepared foods, health and wellness, etc. Are you offering your customers anything new/different because of the recession?
In certain stores we are offering more chef-prepared foods, as well as sushi, salad bars and gourmet olive bars. We recently remodeled a store in Shreveport to include his and her wellness pods, a bulk section providing oats, granola, nuts, quinoa and more, an expanded wine section and a juice/fresh-cut fruit bar. We have specific marketing programs in both brands to help our customers save money.
Q: How do you gauge interest in your concept? Is your concept built around a particular demographic; tailored to each neighborhood? If so, how?
Decision in brand is based on many factors, including location, available land, socio-economic makeup of the area, population density, consumer research, consumer demand and other factors.
Q: What accomplishment by your company over the past year are you most proud of?
We have accomplished a lot over the past year that we are very proud of. We recently established a women’s leadership group to help increase visibility for our female employees/partners. We have also partnered with the Western Association of Food Chains to offer the Retail Management Certificate to all of our employees, and have more than 100 currently enrolled in the program. In addition, we have had numerous store upgrades and new store openings. It has been a great year, and as more projects roll out, we anticipate continued growth and success.
Q: How do you deliver on customer service? Is employee turnover a concern? How do you keep employees engaged?
We’re more of a neighborhood market and we’re able to respond quickly by being involved in the community and listening to the needs of our customers. We have a customer feedback program called “We’re Listening” with phone lines answered by real people rather than an automated system. We provide outstanding service that we call “legendary customer service” to let our shoppers know they are appreciated and valued. We also recently initiated a points program where customers are rewarded with fuel or grocery discounts based on their purchases. We have great loyalty from our employee/partners. We train them well, provide great benefits and we’re focused on being the best we can be. A few of our benefits include opportunities for better health and wellness as well as the ability to attend college. We have many employees who have worked here for more than 40 years.
Q: What do you see as the biggest opportunity in this market? What about the biggest challenge? Are they one and the same?
As an industry, we are seeing some efforts to regulate behavior, both legislative and through regulatory means. All of these regulations make it difficult for grocers to maintain compliance, and they create additional costs and challenges through training and process changes in our stores. These challenges are exacerbated when local communities/municipalities have varied regulatory requirements, in addition to others we work with to stay in compliance with on a state and federal level. The challenges are present in Louisiana just like our other market areas. We have been operating in Shreveport for more than 50 years now, and we have strong customer support in this area. We look forward to growing in Louisiana and carrying out our mission of providing a great food and shopping experience.
Q: Are there issues—from legislative moves to consumer spending habits—that particularly concern or please you? (Taxes, plastic bag issues, health and wellness, cherry picking, etc.)
Government interference, excessive fees for credit cards and rising healthcare costs present challenges along with availability of qualified people to work in our stores and support areas.
Q: What issue or trend facing the entire retail grocery industry do you see as most important today?
One of the most important issues facing the retail grocery industry is customer-specific marketing. I can see additional opportunities for online ordering, store pickup and other customer conveniences. The customer is always changing, so we should also.
Q: How would you characterize the mindset of the company in terms of expected market growth and marketing?
We are optimistic about the future of BGC. We have a lot of new things happening within our company that are setting us up for a very successful future.
Q: What effect is Walmart having on the market and what steps are you taking to offset that?
Our business plan allows us to compete with large retailers, and we’re very confident we can be successful with our plans. We have great people and fresh products.