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 installment, The Grocery Group Founder and CEO Cindy Sorensen interviews Nick Lenzi, SVP of sales and marketing for Busch’s Fresh Food Market, which is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Lenzi was chosen because of his efforts to inform and recruit college students to join the grocery industry and also for his work that recognizes and builds the future of grocery industry leadership. Sorensen’s questions are in bold.
Tell me a little bit about you, and what do you like to do with your time away from the office?
My wife, Michelle, and I have been married for 32 years and have a 26-year-old son, David, who recently completed his master’s degree at James Madison University in Virginia and is currently in the medical program at the University of Michigan. In our free time, we enjoy bike riding, camping and hiking in the Canadian Rockies. I also have a passion for underwater archaeology and paleontology, with more than 400 black water dives in the Cooper River (in Charleston, South Carolina). Finds include Civil War and Indian artifacts and Pleistocene fossils ranging from mastodon remains to megalodon teeth. In addition, I hold an Extra Class amateur radio license (WD8OHY) and prefer Morse code over voice or new digital technologies.
Please provide a brief description of Busch’s Fresh Market.
Busch’s is a privately held, family-owned business. Joe Busch started the family business in 1975 by acquiring two stores, and when Joe retired in 1986, sons John, Doug and Tim took over. In the last 44 years, they have grown the company to the 16 locations we have today. All of our stores are located in southeast Michigan, and Busch’s is currently one of the largest-volume independent grocery retailers in the state of Michigan.
What is your role at Busch’s? Responsibilities?
I am the senior vice president of sales and marketing, currently overseeing the daily operations of the marketing team, as well as the category side of the business. In addition, we operate a small self-distributing warehouse and central bakery that supply all 16 of our locations on a daily basis. Our latest project involves the launch of an enhanced CRM (customer relationship management) system that will better help us manage our data, add value to our existing MyWay program and help drive smarter decisions as we develop offers, clubs and rewards in the future.
What was your career path to this position?
I began my career in 1980 with VG’s, a 17-store family-owned grocery retailer located in southeast Michigan. Starting as a service clerk in 1980, I continued to work while attending college and eventually opened many of the stores VG’s bought or built over the next 10 years. In addition, I held the positions of deli director as well as director of sales and merchandising. In 2009, VG’s was purchased by SpartanNash, where I stayed for eight years as director of sales and merchandising for corporate retail. It was during my time at Spartan that Busch’s reached out with the opportunity that I have today. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with family-owned businesses as well as a publicly-traded company, learning many things from each organization.
What do you see as the greatest opportunities for workforce and leadership development within the grocery industry?
Success in today’s environment relies on deliberately being different. The more we study other companies and benchmark against them, the more we all look alike. The more we utilize third parties to perform certain activities in our business, often the same ones our competitors use, the less unique these activities become. To deliver unique value to our guests, we need to choose a different set of activities. We need to start new strategic initiatives, developing and exploiting many of them at once. While it is accepted that individually some of the benefits provided by these concepts will be temporary, taken as part of a portfolio these initiatives can help separate us from our competition. Remember Sesame Street’s “one of these things is not like the others”? Success in today’s environment relies on being the one that isn’t like the others.
In what ways does Busch’s focus on developing future leadership?
In 2019, becoming the “Employer of Choice” became one of four pillars identified by Busch’s executive team as being crucial to the future success of the business. With this commitment came extensive training for all new associates as well as onboarding for new managers. As part of that initiative, we established Busch’s trainers for all departments, updated manager learning guides and have instituted Talent Days with an emphasis on growth opportunities for internal candidates. In addition, we have partnered with other organizations for certification and skills training for key members of the organization, including the National Grocers Association (NGA) and Cornell’s executive leadership training program, meat lab certifications through Michigan State University and American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional certification for cheesemongers within the organization. We also provide internship opportunities for Busch’s associates attending college.
Do you personally play a role in helping to develop/coach/mentor future leadership in the industry either internally or externally?
Over the years, I have had several opportunities to give back to the industry. On three different occasions, I have presented as a breakout session speaker at the NGA show in Las Vegas as well as being a regional NGA speaker in Chicago. In addition, I have presented as the keynote speaker at the SpartanNash Asset Protection Seminar attended by many independent retailers. Locally, I have been fortunate to present and help mentor marketing majors attending Eastern Michigan University.
Did you utilize or participate in any mentoring/coaching experiences as you developed your career?
I “grew up” in a family-owned business where support staff was intentionally thin, and it provided me the opportunity to experience many different functional areas of the business. Having a generalist background with experience in store operations, deli, sales/marketing as well as procurement later turned out to be an asset as I transitioned from a family business to a much larger publicly held company. To this day, skills and relationships I formed, in some cases over 30 years ago, have proven to be invaluable as I have transitioned to new roles and companies.
What advice do you have for college students and young professionals looking at the grocery industry as one where they can build a career?
There is more to our business than meets the eye. As I’ve had the opportunity to work with students at Eastern Michigan University, they are amazed at the breadth of opportunities our industry provides. Students majoring in marketing were not aware of our industry’s rush to go digital and the opportunities available in CRM, data analytics and social platforms as well as more traditional marketing activities in print, radio and TV. In addition, the digital rush provides new opportunities in IT as apps, click-and-collect, home delivery and social platforms evolve at a furious pace. Combine this with more traditional jobs in store operations, finance, health and wellness, and human resources and it becomes very apparent we are no longer our father’s store.
What pieces of advice did you receive as you built your career to this point that you found most helpful?
One of the most valuable lessons I learned in my career came from my former supervisor Ted Adornato (retired EVP of operations, SpartanNash). When you are self-aware of a shortcoming or skillset you don’t possess, surround yourself with people that complement your weakness and share your passion and success is sure to follow. Secondly—and almost too obvious to write down—is the belief that managing is working with people, not just as supervisors and associates, but more importantly as partners. Adopting a collaborative mindset means that we listen more and talk less, get out of our offices and work “in the business” instead of remaining in our offices to work “on the business” and control less, thus allowing those who know the work best to be in greater control. Contrary to popular belief, leaders don’t do, or order to be done, most of the things that their organizations accomplish. Instead, they create the environment, structure and attitudes that allow things to get done. One of my favorite inspirational messages sums it up best: “The foundation of a successful team is relationship. People go the ‘first mile’ because of a sense of duty. They go the ‘second mile’ because of relationship.”
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?
Although I was brought into my role from the outside, I was welcomed by the Busch’s team like I was family. I am fortunate to work with a team that adheres to the highest standards of integrity, compassion and values that truly sets them apart. I would also like to thank The Shelby Report for this opportunity to share our story.