Junior’s Super Market is a seven-store chain based in Pharr, Texas, where it now operates three stores: one Junior’s Express and two Junior’s Super Market locations. Other locations in the Rio Grande Valley include Edinburg, San Juan, Hidalgo, Penitas and Alton. The Shelby Report’s Jan Meade caught up with owner Felix Chavez Jr. for a quick question-and-answer session while both were at the Grocers Supply Expo in Houston in May.
Jan Meade: How did you get your start in the grocery business?
Felix Chavez Jr.: I started in 1978 with a very small convenience store. There wasn’t much to it. I was working for a retail grocery store. I bought that place just because I thought it was a good investment and a good area to someday start a grocery store.
Meade: And was that in Pharr?
Chavez: That was in Pharr. It’s actually out of the city limits, so it was an area that nobody paid any attention to, and three years later, that’s when we started our first grocery store. That happened in 1981. It was small, 3,200 s.f., and it was an immediate success. Within a year, we were doing very, very well. We’ve been at it 37 years.
Meade: Tell us a little bit about your stores. Are they all about the same size? Do their offerings vary or are they the same in each location?
Chavez: They range from 7,200 s.f. to 35,000 s.f., so some of them are bigger stores. The largest stores have big delicatessens, like a restaurant, and a bakery. We have added more departments. We’ve been growing in size employee-wise and with the services that we offer. They are your basic grocery stores but some of them have more departments. Offerings are more Hispanic, naturally, because we’re right at the border. But we do cater to all demographics.
Meade: What plans have you announced for store growth/remodeling in the upcoming year that we can share with our readers?
Chavez: We actually are remodeling three of our stores. Some of them are going to get totally new equipment. We have two new locations that we’re looking at, but we’re just waiting for the right time.
Meade: Are you offering your customers new or different products and/or services because of the state of the economy and/or the political environment in your area?
Chavez: Yes. We have realized that times have really changed the way of doing business. I have a good group of people today at the show to look at a lot of the new technology, new items, new products because we have come to realize that Millennials want different things. Things have really changed from 1981 to this time, so we’re trying to increase our sales, our volume, with the different ways that people are doing business now.
Meade: What accomplishment by your company over the past year makes you most proud?
Chavez: The fact that we’re still holding our sales. We’re still doing good. We know that a lot of different kinds of retailers are suffering a little bit. We still have kick, so that makes us feel proud.
Meade: Give us your opinion on the economic outlook for your local market.
Chavez: Well, we feel the economy has kind of slowed down some. We feel that new government laws have impacted our communities a lot. A lot of our clientele, they’re the Latino population, and we see them not buying as much. And some of the programs have been cut down, the WIC program, the food stamp (SNAP) program. But we see, overall, a little bit of slowdown on jobs.
Meade: What is your opinion on the competitive outlook for this market? Is it over-stored or is it underserved?
Chavez: No, I think the competitors are going at it strong. H-E-B and Walmart are the two main competitors in our area. There are a lot of dollar stores that are going out to the smaller communities and they do some volume, so that has really cut the pie into a lot of pieces. But mostly H-E-B, they fight hard. So, it’s a little tough but we’re hanging in there.
Meade: How are you using your website, email and social media to reach out to consumers? How have they responded?
Chavez: We’re starting to use social media, the technology because we know that’s where the growth is right now. Millennials are really using it, so we’re changing our (advertising) formats. Television is not doing much, or newspapers. We’re trying to switch. We’re leaving some of the media that we used to use before to try to reach out to the new business. To some extent, yes, they are responding. We’re learning, and I think it’s something that we’re really going to have to do to impact our sales in our stores.
Meade: Are there issues—from legislative moves to consumer spending habits—that particularly concern or please you?
Chavez: Yes, everything is very important from the standpoint of new government issues. Everything has an effect. We feel that we are being impacted from all different areas. And I think we’re going to have to become better operators to really stay on top.
Meade: What issue or trend facing the entire retail grocery industry do you see as most important today?
Chavez: The new technology. The demographics for our clientele was, I think, people between the late mid-30s to the 60s and above, and we’re seeing the age of our consumers really going down. That is one of the things that we feel will be a big issue for us in the next few years.
Meade: Is there anything else you wanted to share with readers of The Shelby Report?
Chavez: Just that we hope to be up there and be competitive and try to learn more about the business. We never stop learning. We’re always hoping to do better.
‘We’re here to stay’
“I’ve been with the company for 32 years and I’ve learned a lot from this man (Felix Chavez Jr.). What I like about this company is the owner, Mr. Chavez, doesn’t want to get behind. He invests in the stores. He’s trying to keep up with the trends. The trend in buying, it’s changing, so we need to just keep on changing with it. Service and quality are most important, and we try to keep up with the trends, like offering what Millennials want. Mr. Chavez is very good at that. The independent is almost obsolete. We’re the biggest independent in the (Rio Grande) Valley and we’re here to stay. We’re working hard—everybody, our employees. We’re here to stay. We’re going to keep up. It’s a lot of hard work, but the future looks good for us.”
—Juan Garcia, Junior’s Super Market