Former Hawaii Food Executive Godfrey Passes Away

Mr. Roger Godfrey with his wife Signe.

Mr. Roger Godfrey with his wife Signe.

Mr. Roger Godfrey, who had an impressive career in Hawaii’s food industry, died Thursday. He was in his early 80s. Details about his death and funeral arrangements were not available at the time of this report.

According to a 2012 story about Mr. Godfrey when he was inducted into the Hawaii Food Industry Association’s Hall of Fame, he was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin—and in the food industry. His family owned the Godfrey Co., a wholesale grocer that evolved into Sentry Stores, which had 45 company-owned stores and 45 independently owned stores. His first job was a working in the Godfrey Co. produce warehouse at age 15.

Mr. Godfrey went on to earn a BBA in finance and marketing from the University of Wisconsin, and then served as chief of the accounting division for the U.S. Army Finance Corps in Europe. After earning an MBA from Stanford University in 1958, Mr. Godfrey became department manager of Lucky Stores in San Leandro, California. He worked for two years, then headed back to Waukesha, Wisconsin, to be store manager at Sentry Markets for the family business. After two years, Mr. Godfrey returned to California and in 1963 bought from bankruptcy court a single store in San Jose, California. In two years, he turned the store around and into a profitable operation with $2.5 million in sales. In a total of 10 years, Mr. Godfrey had acquired other supermarkets from the Bay Area to San Jose to build a 10-store chain called Key Markets, a $25 million operation, for which he established operational guidelines and goals for about 250 employees.

Asked about his success, Mr. Godfrey was once quoted as saying it was due to “a great meat guy for a partner, a great produce guy and a go-for-broke attitude by all.” However, an industry colleague said it also was because of his honesty and integrity, and described Mr. Godfrey as “someone who cares about you in both business and personal matters.”

After Key Markets was sold, Mr. Godfrey was hired by Certified Corp. He originally was slated to stay in California, but was sent to Hawaii to be a retail service manager for a couple of years. He ended up staying. Mr. Godfrey eventually became Certified’s EVP and GM in Hawaii, where sales volume increased by 60 percent and profitability by 500 percent. Despite his efforts, Certified closed operations in 1985, and Mr. Godfrey moved on to Foodland Supermarkets, where he became director of distribution at its distribution center. There he initiated labor-savings systems and productivity records that reduced labor costs by 15 percent. Mr. Godfrey’s time at Foodland was short-lived. Fleming Cos. came to Foodland and said it wanted to be the chain’s supplier. Foodland responded that it was hard to buy from the mainland, so Fleming flipped it and proposed it buy Foodland’s distribution center; Foodland would in turn buy from Fleming—and that’s what happened in 1986. Mr. Godfrey was asked to stay on for a year “just to get things off the ground and running smoothly,” but eventually he became Fleming’s division president. At first, the business wasn’t gaining enough steam. Mr. Godfrey’s boss told him that he’d have to get the business up to $100 million or Fleming would close the division. No other companies came as customers because the distribution center still had the perception that it was Foodland’s warehouse.

“(We needed to) break the (impression) of Foodland,” Mr. Godfrey recalled in the 2012 story.

And it was able to. Some food retailers such as Times and a few smaller stores came around. Military business—which was unusual for Fleming—grew, and that brought in gross revenues to $100 million all by itself. The distribution center also attracted fast food restaurants—a first for Fleming—like Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger King. New customers combined, the food distribution center grew to $300 million under Mr. Godfrey’s leadership.

“It got to be a good-sized business,” Mr. Godfrey said.

Fleming’s Hawaii division had become the state’s largest full-service food wholesaler. At Fleming, Mr. Godfrey brought considerable change to distribution and warehouse management. The division used refrigerated trailers for deliveries over flatbed trucks and worked closely with suppliers and established team-building programs that facilitated faster business development. As a result of his efforts, Mr. Godfrey was honored with the Chairman’s Award, Fleming’s highest honor. Active in the Hawaii Food Industry Association for many years, Mr. Godfrey served as chairman of the board in 1996 in the midst of his tenure at Fleming.

Mr. Godfrey retired from Fleming in 2000 at 68 years of age. Soon after he “retired” from Fleming, the Teruya family, owners of Times Supermarkets, approached him and asked if he wanted to buy the supermarket chain. He said he knew a fellow named John Quinn who would be interested. At first, Mr. Godfrey agreed to act as a consultant only. However, during the due-diligence phase before the purchase went through, he realized that a number of changes would have to be made to make Times profitable, so he became president in 2002 and agreed with Quinn to work five years.

Five major strategies were developed to turn Times around in a few years, but the company progressed rapidly. Although Times was now owned by a mainland company, the first strategy was to emphasize its local aspects. Radio personality Lina Girl was brought in to do radio and Times TV commercials. Secondly, the pricing strategy was changed to create the supermarket’s “every day low price.” Third, the Times pharmacy was promoted when very few retailers had pharmacies. Fourth, a Times strength—the perception that the supermarket had the best produce—was emphasized. Lastly, good customer service was stressed.

“But Times already had good, good people,” Mr. Godfrey said.

In addition, every shelf and every square foot of flooring was scrubbed at all the stores. Times also brought in Sterling Silver meats during  Mr. Godfrey’s tenure. All it took was a taste of the high-quality meat to know that Times would do well if it carried the product. However, Mr. Godfrey knew his team had to get customers to taste it. While trying to think of ways to accomplish this, the human resources director came up with the idea of holding outside barbecues.

“Everyone contributed,” explained Godfrey of how ideas were generated.

The price was set low for a steak dinner because the company simply wanted people to taste the upgraded Sterling Silver beef, but the barbecues became so popular that Times has had many imitators since. Times also developed prepared foods, although this took longer to develop.

At the end of the promised five years, Mr. Godfrey stepped down for other pursuits. The Times job was six days a week of work, but he lightly brushed that aside.

“I don’t really want to retire,” he said. “I want to keep busy.”

“All of us will remember him for ‘push, push, push’ and never being satisfied, always reaching for something better for the company and ourselves,” said Bob Stout, president of Times Supermarkets, upon learning of Mr. Godfrey’s death. “His contribution toward what we’ve become as a company will always be remembered.”

Asked in 2011 what still drove him at 80 years of age, Godfrey responded, “the game, the challenge.”

After all, what inspired him most were people who are risk takers, and those “who have vision and ideas outside the normal and ordinary.”

His wife Signe said in 2012 that Mr. Godfrey also had been greatly influenced by his father, who loved people and spoke to everyone. “No one was a stranger (to him),” she said.

After his time at Times, Mr. Godfrey sought to buy and run a company, but the acquisition didn’t work out. Then he saw an article in Pacific Business News about Waialua Soda Works, which was looking for financing. Founded in 2003 by Waialua residents Karen and Jason Campbell, Waialua Soda Works revived a local soda bottling tradition that goes back more than 100 years with glass bottles, pure cane sugar and natural flavors. The company’s first bottle was produced in 2004. In 2010, it won distribution in Whole Foods in Southern California, Nevada and Arizona. The company then signed other deals that expanded its product’s reach to Texas and other states.

Mr. Godfrey invested in Waialua Soda Works, along with other local investors.

At the time of the 2012 story was published, Mr. Godfrey continued to work with Waialua Soda Works and another small business he’d invested in to help them grow and prosper. He remained active in the community, serving on the boards of the Hawaii Foodbank, the Hawaii Public Housing Authority and on the Executive Committee for the Hawaii Sheraton Bowl, and his mind and body was ever active with recreational activities like gardening, walking, golf and reading. Mr. Godfrey also shared an adjoining office with Signe’s temporary staffing business at Pioneer Plaza on Fort Street Mall. His business card simply read, “Roger K. Godfrey, Business Analyst/ Consultant,” and he was ready to impart years of know-how and knowledge.

About The Author

A former newspaper editor and publisher who has handled digital duties for The Shelby Report since 2011. She once enjoyed leisurely perusing the grocery store aisles but, since having a baby in 2016, is now an enthusiastic click-and-collect shopper.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Anyone remember these Potato Chips? | Wisfoodtalk.com

Comments are closed.