Christine Neal has an important job at Unified Grocers. As SVP of finance and treasurer for the company, part of her job is managing loans for the co-op’s members so as to allow them to grow and remodel stores.
“We’re trying to broaden how we look at that and actually help them find financial solutions,” she told The Shelby Report during Unified’s Expo 2013 this week. “Sometimes if a retailer wants to sell, they’ve never done that before. They’ve owned their business, they’ve run their business for 30 or 40 years and now there’s no succession plans in place, so what do they do? We try to help facilitate that. One, find a buyer, and also help them go through the process—how they might consider valuing the business, how the buyer might find financing. If we can play a role in that we will…”
Grocers Capital Co., a Unified subsidiary, handles this side of the business. Neal said that, while she knows of some other wholesalers who offer this type of service, she’d be hard pressed to find one that does so to the extent Unified does.
“Our subsidiary Grocers Capital Co. has a loan portfolio of over $25 million, and that’s low (for us),” she says. “It’s actually been higher than that in the past.”
The financial and loan services offered by Unified facilitates a great partnership between the wholesaler and its members, according to Neal.
“I was talking to one of the retailers here at the show that we had helped with a buy/sell arrangement, and he said to me, let me know if you guys have any stores that I might be interested in, and I said, ‘You’re always on our radar.’ And he said, ‘That’s the partnership. We can run the stores, you can help us find them and help us finance them…’”
Neal understands the importance of such partnerships. She’s considered a food industry veteran.
She worked for Gelson’s as a controller for seven years and spent several years as the CFO for the California Restaurant Association. She later began working with Certified Grocers and she stayed on board when it merged with United in 1999; the merged company later became Unified Grocers. Neal has a passion for the independent grocer, and so does Unified.
“This is a big global economy and to the extent that we can help keep these local and family-owned businesses alive in America and help them compete, that’s what we do,” she said. “And we need to keep doing that and not let this ‘localness’ die out.”