The Shelby Report and The Grocery Group have partnered on this series, entitled People to Watch, to focus on current and future leadership in the grocery industry. In this installment, The Grocery Group Founder and CEO Cindy Sorensen interviews Dana Shemirani, VP-purchasing, and Rachel Shemirani, SVP, of Barons Market in Southern California.
Tell me a little bit about you and what you like to do with your time away from the office.
Dana: I live near the beach in San Diego, so I love enjoying the ocean. I’m also a buyer through and through…I love to shop. I have a passion for animals and can’t wait to rescue my own someday soon.
Rachel: I like exploring the food and craft beer scene in San Diego and going to new restaurant and brewery openings. I also enjoy reading and staying at home. Most of my good friends live farther away from me, so I’m always traveling to spend time with them.
Please provide a brief description of Barons Market.
Barons Market is an organic, natural and specialty food neighborhood grocery store. It was started by our father, Joe, and his brothers who had a vision to create a grocery store where exciting food, great employees and the community all meet. We’ve created a 10-minute shopping experience so that our customers can get delicious food quickly and easily.
What is your role at Barons Market? Responsibilities?
Dana: I’m a VP of purchasing. I focus mainly on perishable items, including deli, dairy and frozen foods.
Rachel: I’m a senior vice president. I manage our marketing and public relations, as well as new store design. Both Dana and I are also involved in operations.
What was your career path to this position?
Dana: I’ve worked at Barons since I was 15 years old. I started as a cashier and clerk and worked my way up to assistant store manager. I helped open, staff and train employees in three new stores before moving to a buyer position in the home office. My role eventually grew and I’m now VP of purchasing.
Rachel: I also started working at Barons when I was 15 years old as a cashier and clerk. I eventually worked as a deli manager and assistant store manager. Wanting to explore other jobs, I worked at a PR firm and then eventually moved to the Bay Area and worked as a marketing manager. When I moved back to San Diego 10 years ago, I brought everything I learned about marketing back to my family’s business.
What do you see as the greatest opportunities for workforce and leadership development within the grocery industry?
Dana and Rachel: It’s important for grocery stores to make the growth and development of their employees part of their core values. It should be a priority in any company, but specifically in the grocery industry as we believe that happy employees lead to happy customers. Developing our employees has been part of our core values since the beginning, and our company’s culture reflects that. We have very little turnover in our management because we are constantly investing in our team. Our people are happy to come in to work every day and our customers feel that when they shop with us.
In what ways does Barons Market focus on developing future leadership? Tell me a little more about that.
Dana and Rachel: We spend a lot of time and energy developing our people. But you can’t just say that, you must do it. Because employee development is part of our core values, we’ve created a culture where we encourage our employees to get creative, try new things, offer solutions to new challenges and to make mistakes. Yes, we encourage our people to make mistakes. If you offer a safe place for employees to come up with new ideas, you’ll get more innovative ideas and solutions. We have a very successful LEAD management program that our supervisors and managers go through where they learn every single department in the store, from ordering to merchandising. It’s a great tool to teach the future leaders of our company.
Do you personally play a role in helping to develop/coach/mentor future leadership in the industry, either internally or externally?
Dana and Rachel: We knew early on that as part of our family’s company, we have a responsibility to our employees to mentor them. Our people know that they can come to us any time to bounce ideas off us and we’ll give them honest feedback. If it’s a great idea, we encourage them to not only present it to the rest of the team, but we support them fully. We have their backs, and there’s nothing more important for a future leader than to know that their managers are there for them; it builds their confidence, which is key. And if their idea doesn’t end up working out, we are right there with them, retooling it or coming up with another idea.
What advice do you have for college students and young professionals looking at the grocery industry as one where they can build a career?
Dana and Rachel: Find a company that matches your values and a company that values your ideas. The grocery industry is fun. We get to talk food all day long and food is what brings people together. Grocery stores are hubs in the neighborhood, so we get to be very involved in our surrounding communities.
What pieces of advice did you receive as you built your career to this point, which you found most helpful?
Dana and Rachel: You have to follow your passion. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes—that’s how you learn and grow. Be open. Hire people that are smarter than you. It makes your business better and it challenges you to be better at your job. And always be honest but kind.
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?
Dana and Rachel: We cannot stress enough how important it is to take care of and empower your employees. Grocery stores are always striving to create an exciting and engaging shopping experience for their customers and a key part of that is your employees.