Fresh executive team breathes new life into employee-owned Homeland
Homeland is a banner of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma-based HAC Inc., which has been around for 102 years. Its mission is to operate the best grocery stores by providing exceptional customer service, clean and friendly stores, strong perishable departments, competitive prices, continuous involvement of technology to better assist in managing pricing, and ongoing training and development of associates. A new executive team led by President and CEO Marc Jones has breathed fresh air into the employee-owned chain, which of late has celebrated transformative remodels in Oklahoma City and Perry, Oklahoma.
HAC Inc. finds its voice with the help of new leadership
The change in executive leadership at Oklahoma City-based HAC Inc./Homeland has not been all by design. Newcomers filled the positions for other reasons, mostly retirements.
CEO Marc Jones, originally from Canada and now an “Oklahoman by choice,” started with the company a little more than two years ago.
Dennis Maxwell, director of marketing, has been with the company for about a year and a half.
Brian Haaraoja, VP of merchandising and marketing, took on his role at Homeland in October 2016. Mark Wolowitz has been VP of operations since August 2016. Chris Smith, VP of IT, has been with the company since July 2016. John Cripe, VP of HR, joined the company in October 2016.
Jones grew up catching chickens and working in meat plants. He came to HAC from The Fresh Market in North Carolina. He acknowledges that most of the executive team members are still fresh. Debbie Brown, CFO, has been with the company since the 1990s. She carries the “institutional memory” for the group.
“We’re finding our voice and offering something different than ‘me too.’ I don’t know if that ever completely worked, but nowadays it definitely doesn’t. You have to figure out what you’re going to stand for,” Jones said. “We’ve weathered a lot of storms. I think the fun thing about the last couple of years is not only getting through the storm—though the storm of competition never ends—and starting to show ourselves and, hopefully, our customers that we’re not only here to stay, we’re here to offer the folks who have supported us for 102 years something a little different.”
Jones said the company looks for the same traits whether it is hiring an executive or a bagger: creativity, personality, passion.
“We’re looking for people who are good at what they do. At least five out of the six of the executive team have had to learn a new company and some of us a new geography,” he said. “In any job, you’re looking for people who can learn and adapt to new situations. We’re looking for people who are appropriately respectful but willing to challenge.”
He wants people to bring what he described as a “rebel streak” or an “Oklahoma cowboy spirit.”
“We just want a little bit of that cowboy spirit in our business and in our people,” he said. “There are absolutely some rules that you don’t break, but in terms of thinking about new ways to do things, I think that’s a big quality at any level of our company.”
As the company finds its voice, Jones has worked with the executive team on five pillars: fair, fast, fresh, friendly and local. These are the qualities shoppers should expect HAC/Homeland to deliver. Jones said it is one thing to say you offer the best fresh produce and meat, but customers will know whether that is true every time they come into a store.
It’s nice to put up a sign and even more fun to do a remodel, Jones said, but “the real proof in the pudding is six months from now, when the sizzle of a remodeled store has passed by but they’re finding fresher product and new items and they’re getting excited about the shopping experience.”
The employee-owned company operates stores under several banners: Homeland, United Supermarkets of Oklahoma, Country Mart, Super Save, Super Save Cash Plus Food Outlet, Piggly Wiggly, Food World and Cash Saver: A Cost Plus Food Outlet.
“We can offer something different that you can only get at a Homeland or a United or a Cash Saver,” Jones said. “You can only get it in the store that is run by its employees and a store that is based in Oklahoma. As a company, to start learning our voice is like a journey, and it’s a journey that isn’t going to end any time soon—not even in 102 more years. We’re in it for the long haul.”