Leon Bergmann took on the role of SVP of sales for Unified Grocers in December last year. His experiences as president of independent business for Supervalu and as SVP of sales and customer service at C&S Wholesale Grocers are helping him serve Unified’s retailers. Bergmann spoke with The Shelby Report’s Bob Reeves at Unified Grocers Expo 2013 on Thursday.
“It’s really the variety of experience,” Bergmann says. “You can look at things that are problems, maybe, or challenges that have been around for a while, but it’s a fresh set of eyes, a different perspective, maybe one piece from here, one piece from there, one piece that’s already in place. It’s really just having more tools with which to put the puzzle together.”
He has spent his time listening, he tells The Shelby Report. He already has met with a good number of Unified’s retailers.
“It’s trying to get the feedback from the owners—and our retailers are our owners—and to understand what’s important to them,” Bergmann says. “All of us only have so many resources, so I want to know what they want us to spend our time on, what’s most meaningful to them and what’s going to help them at retail.”
There are always questions and challenges to be addressed, including how to better communicate with and execute for the member-owners so that they can focus more on retail, he says. Listening is the first step, and the second is the organizational restructuring that has taken place at Unified Grocers. Bergmann says the company can improve its service with the better internal alignment that is now in place.
“We’ve switched out people,” he says. “We also now have what used to be called ‘customer care.’ We call it customer satisfaction, which now reports the sales.”
The company also has removed some service functions from the sales force in the field, so that they can better concentrate on engaging with retailers and meeting their needs.
“At the end of the day, we should be able to take that service piece for granted,” Bergmann says. “Then the fundamental equation is, ‘how can we add value out there?’ and that’s by helping our retailers sell more.”
Bergmann recognizes that the retailers sign the paychecks of “every single person” who works for Unified Grocers.
“Those checks are being signed by our owners, so we need to make sure that not only they but also the rest of their organizations view (us as) truly a partner, not a vendor,” he says. “That’s critical to everything we do.
“If we make a profit, that profit doesn’t go to some faceless shareholder or some institutional hedge fund,” he says. “It goes back to our owners, who are our retailers.”
Unified goes hi-tech to serve a myriad of retailers
Unified Grocers is rolling out new apps for its sales force to use in retail stores that can track sales and compare them to the previous year, among other functions. Unified’s salespeople can work with retailers while standing in the aisles of their stores to give them a better idea of what’s available and how to fully take advantage of what Unified Grocers offers.
“It’s not a productivity thing,” Bergmann says. “It’s not who’s selling what. The value of all of this is incremental sales for our retailers at retail. That’s the name of the game.”
The retailers served by Unified cater to a variety of demographics and tastes. Unified Grocers has a big enough “tool box,” Bergmann says, to support their brand equity and go-to-market strategies.
“What has been neat is to see how progressive they are, how passionate they are, but also how successful they are against all of these different types of competition,” Bergmann says. “It’s not just that we have one type of retailer who’s growing,” he says. “We have every type of retailer who’s growing and it’s wonderful to see.”