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Neiman Siblings Continue Family Tradition

Neiman

Company is ‘hometown’ store in four locations

by John McCurry, contributing writer

Like many independent grocers, Bryan Neiman grew up in the business. His parents, Hal and Jean, opened their first store in Alpena, Michigan, in 1983. During subsequent years, Neiman’s Family Market added stores in Tawas, St. Clair and Clarkston, Michigan, for a total of four. 

With the elder Neimans now retired, the chain is owned by: Neiman, who serves as president and CEO; his sister, Amy Rogers, who oversees human resources; and his brother, Nathan, store director in Clarkston and also the company’s IT director.

Neiman is a third-generation grocer. His grandfather had a store. When his parents opened theirs, he started helping out as soon as he was old enough to work. That continued through high school and college. All of the siblings worked elsewhere in the industry before returning to the family business. He said that provided a great learning experience. 

But no amount of experience could prepare anyone for the COVID-19 outbreak. This year has been like no other for the grocery industry, including Neiman’s Family Market. 

“Things are starting to kind of calm down and settle back to the way they were prior to the pandemic,” Neiman said. “Obviously, it was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. March and April, it was nuts. But it is starting to come back to somewhat normal.”

NeimanWhen the pandemic hit, Neiman’s quickly enacted steps to keep employees and customers safe. That included the chain’s “Take 5” program. Two to three times each hour, store directors would announce a “Take 5” over the public address system. That meant employees would stop once they were finished with their current customer and take a few minutes to sanitize their work stations, take a breath and calm down. 

Neiman said that made a big difference in helping ease tension. Subsequent measures included adding hand-sanitizing stations at the front of stores, implementing one-way aisles and installing Plexiglass shields. 

These changes likely will continue, he said, but no one knows what “permanent” is going to be. He noted that Michigan is behind most states in opening up, and doesn’t know of any stores who have taken down the shields.

Neiman’s Family Markets offered online ordering prior to the virus outbreak, and it has grown in a major way. The company uses the Rosie app for deliveries. Neiman expects this channel to continue to grow. Orders rapidly rose from five or six a week to 50 to 60 per day. Neiman figures many will stay with online ordering.

The chain was able to keep the majority of its staff, implementing a $2-per-hour pay increase. It also was able to recruit several restaurant workers who had lost their jobs. 

Neiman’s positions itself as the hometown grocer in its four communities. It’s motto is “The Place Where Community and Food Come Together to Improve Lives.”

“We are known as your hometown grocer,”  Neiman said. “We’ve made that our niche. We are very active in the community. We support the local charities and causes. It’s important to us to be a part of the community we live and serve and work in.”Neiman

Outside of pandemic-related trends, the movement toward healthy living continues. Meat substitute products have been popular. 

“We feel good about the new customers we picked up from the national chains,” he said.  “We think they will stay with us. They like the service we provide and our competitive prices. 

“I think the cleanliness of a store has become more of a priority for people. It’s a big deal. We are spraying the carts down, and we have sanitizing stations. They see the care we take with cleaning the stores.”

The majority of customers wear masks. Neiman said the priority is the safety of employees, but the stores don’t police the wearing of masks. They do, however, provide masks at no charge to customers. 

While the uncertainty related to the coronavirus likely will continue, Neiman is optimistic the remainder of 2020 will bring strong sales for his stores. 

Some of the momentum for sales is that more people are cooking at home amid the pandemic, and that’s a trend he thinks will continue. He also said customers respond favorably to the family atmosphere his staff conveys.

Neiman offered an example of customer loyalty. When the big run on groceries came in March, huge deliveries at his stores put pressure on employees to keep shelves stocked. The St. Clair store couldn’t hire enough staff to keep up. In response, several residents volunteered to help stock. It was something they wanted to do to help, he said. 

NeimanLooking ahead, will Neiman’s grow beyond its current four stores?  That’s a possibility.

“We are always looking at opportunities that come our way,” he said. “What we really look for is the community base, whether it is the right fit. We would be willing to expand if the right opportunity were to come along.”

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