by Terrie Ellerbee/editor-Southwest
Kaune’s Neighborhood Market—and as stated on the company’s website, “if you’ve ever known a Connie, you can say Kaune’s”—is a small boutique grocery that has been in operation in Santa Fe since 1896. According to a story in Specialty Food Magazine, founder Henry Spencer Kaune, who was from Illinois, was known for the specialty foods he brought to the 8,300-s.f. market, including Coca-Cola. The store offered everything from “dried beans to caviar.”
True to the vision of the founder, the market today offers not only a full line of grocery staples but also products unique to Kaune’s.
“Our competitive advantage comes from providing a highly curated product mix,” Cheryl Sommer, owner of Kaune’s, told The Shelby Report. “That includes some local products that we typically find when the producer walks in our door and shows us the product, or we also receive many great tips from our customers. I think the specialty market is popular because consumers desire variety and also because consumers appreciate the effort of those who create unique food products.”
She said specialty products, particularly sauces and condiments, allow for the easy creation of impressive meals at home.
The store’s meat market is another cornerstone of Kaune’s success.
“With customer service as our highest priority, providing exclusively counter service in our meat department is essential. I think our customers enjoy the interaction with our staff across the counter and I think our customers enjoy participating in hand selecting one of the essential ingredients for their meal,” Sommer said. “There is a trust that comes from the direct interaction between our customers and staff.”
She said customers many times have come to the meat counter with a recipe in hand, unsure of what to buy.
“They trust that our staff will provide exactly what they need to prepare their gourmet meal,” Sommer said. “It warms my heart to hear the opinion expressed that we have the ‘best meat in town.’”
The staff has been integral to the market’s success. Some employees have been with Kaune’s for decades.
“In addition to the product mix that we offer, our success is due in large part to the people we employ,” Sommer said. “We are so lucky to have several individuals who have literally ‘grown up’ working at Kaune’s. I hope they stay because, as I do, they believe the grocery industry, while very hard work, is an important and honorable profession.”
Giving independents a voice
Sommer is just about halfway through her two-year term as chair of the National Grocers Association (NGA) board of directors. She told The Shelby Report that she is enjoying the experience.
“It gives me the opportunity to work closely with the highly professional staff at NGA as well as the opportunity to network with other members of the NGA,” Sommer said.
She “absolutely” recommends that independent grocers like herself belong to NGA.
“NGA gives independents, large and small, a huge voice in Washington through its government relations activities,” she said.
A case in point is the many victories independent grocers won thanks to NGA and other industry groups with the recent passage of the Farm Bill.
Joining NGA helps keep independent grocers in the know not only politically but also operationally.
“A potential disadvantage for independent grocers, particular small operators, is the inability to remain current with regard to best practices and government regulations because they are too busy working in their businesses,” Sommer said. “Through NGA membership, independents have abundant opportunities to network and learn from others in the industry.”
She refers to Kaune’s as “one of those small independents who rely on NGA and others to provide support.”