The Shelby Report and The Grocery Group have introduced a new series entitled People to Watch that focuses on current and future leadership in the grocery industry. In this third installment, The Grocery Group Founder and CEO Cindy Sorensen interviews Sarah Thacker, advertising manager for Harps Food Stores. Sorensen’s questions are in bold.
Tell me a little bit about you and what you like to do with your time away from the office.
My husband, Travis, and I have been married for almost four years. Together we have a 2-year-old son, Tate. We enjoy taking our son to local parks and the zoo. I also love going out on Beaver Lake (in the Ozark Mountains) in the summer to swim and catch bigger fish than my husband does. I enjoy getting to go back “home” to southwest Oklahoma to visit family. Even though my husband is easily the better cook, I enjoy cooking and getting to use him to “test” my newest recipes. Once the piles of laundry at home are done, you can usually find me on the couch reading a book. That’s only if Tate hasn’t persuaded me to read “Pete the Cat” to him for the 20th time that day.
Please provide a brief description of Harps Food Stores.
Harvard and Floy Harp founded Harps in 1930. They started the first store with $500 in cash that Harvard had saved while working in the citrus industry in California. The first store was Harps Cash Grocery and was located in Springdale, Arkansas. Over the last 89 years, Harps has expanded to 91 stores across Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. We have been 100 percent employee-owned since 2001 and are the largest employee-owned company headquartered in Arkansas and the 30th largest in the United States.
What is your role at Harps?
I became our new advertising manager in September, taking the place of Huey Couch, who had been with Harps for 55 years. Talk about some big shoes to fill. Currently, I oversee the daily operations in the advertising department for our print advertising, social media, website and radio. We are a tiny-but-mighty department team of four. One of our biggest projects so far has been advertising our newly launched home delivery partnership with Instacart.
What was your career path to this position?
Being a future graduate with a master’s degree in agribusiness, I was unsure at first how working in the grocery industry really made sense for a career. But I thought, “Well, grocery stores are businesses that have food, which is a major part of agriculture. This sounds like an excellent opportunity to try something new.” My advisor at the time was very good friends with Frank Ray, our VP of human resources. After speaking with Frank about all of the opportunities that Harps had to offer, I packed my bags and moved to northwest Arkansas after graduating from Oklahoma State University to start in their manager trainee program. Since then, I have worked my way up from grocery manager, store manager and now advertising manager at our general office located in Springdale, Arkansas.
What do you see as the greatest opportunities for workforce and leadership development within the grocery industry?
Simply keep an open mind to all kinds of change. This industry is changing rapidly as well as to how we train our associates. Any leadership and training development is vital to a business for growth. It’s important that we bring the best out in our associates and give them all the proper resources and tools available where they can best utilize their strengths.
In what ways does Harps focus on developing future leadership? Tell me a little more about that.
Besides our manager trainee program, we also have a leadership development coordinator who travels to different regions throughout the state to hold training seminars. All department and store managers interested in various leadership topics are encouraged to attend.
Do you personally play a role in helping to develop/coach/mentor future leadership in the industry—either internally or externally?
During the previously mentioned leadership development training days, I participate by speaking to the groups at our breakout sessions on the topic “How to Empower Your Team.” I want to help develop our future leaders any way possible, so I use this as an opportunity for encouragement and training. It also serves as an excellent opportunity to introduce myself as the new advertising manager to the store and department managers.
Did you utilize or participate in any mentoring/coaching experiences as you developed your career?
Yes, most definitely. While in the manager trainee program, I absorbed everything possible there was to know about the grocery industry and Harps. I made my share of mistakes but am forever grateful for my mentors during that process. I also attended every leadership session possible throughout my time spent in the stores. I would also highly encourage my department managers to attend the sessions to help with their growth in the company.
What advice do you have for college students and young professionals looking at the grocery industry as one where they can build a career?
Grocery retail is a fast-paced, growing and extremely rewarding industry. Before coming to work with Harps I had no idea of what all the grocery industry entailed. It’s more than just stocking and checking out groceries. This is a career full of endless opportunities. As an “ag kid” I have always been passionate about agriculture and feeding people. What better way to serve our communities than working for Harps to provide food for our valued customers?
What pieces of advice did you receive as you built your career to this point that you found most helpful?
If you are driven and work hard, the opportunities are endless. At Harps, we pride ourselves on exceptional customer service and growing new leaders. I’ve found there is nothing more true than the quote, “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.”
What else would you like the readers of The Shelby Report to know about you, your employer and/or other relevant industry information and insights?
I’m forever grateful for this company. Harps truly feels like family. They never waver from their values and ethics, and they strive to continue to be a leader in the grocery industry. And thank you to The Shelby Report for this opportunity to share more about Harps.