by John McCurry, contributing writer
Fairvalue has been the prominent independent grocer in Caldwell County, North Carolina, for more than 75 years. The company currently operates stores in Lenoir and Granite Falls.
Shawn Yambor is the current owner, following in the footsteps of his father, who had a long career in the industry. Yambor’s parents purchased Fairvalue in 1998. When they retired five years ago, he bought the stores.
Fairvalue employs about 125, 42 of whom work full time. Yambor noted that finding and retaining good employees is his biggest job.
“It’s a challenge finding quality people,” he said. “Then we spend a lot of time and resources training these people, and we lose them to someone else because they offer more money.
“I’m a big sports guy and I feel like we are the Tampa Bay Rays. We harvest the [baseball] talent, we bring them up and train them and make them major-league ready, and then they go and get the big contract somewhere else. It’s tough.
“We are fortunate in that 90 percent of our full-time staff have been with us five years or more, so we don’t have a lot of turnover among them.”
Yambor credited IGA and its president, John Ross, for helping guide his stores through the pandemic.
“John was very tuned in to what was going on in China from the start, with IGA having offices there,” Yambor said. “We were able to be warned in advance of what was happening and translating it to here. With their guidance, we were able to get ahead of it in terms of prepping our stores for it in terms of sanitation and cleaning and in terms of our orders.”
Fairvalue has offered online sales for nearly three years. The company started with $15,000 to $20,000 per year in sales. That skyrocketed to more than $100,000 during a three-month period this summer. Fairvalue also rolled out a delivery program, which has become popular.
“As an independent, it’s tough,” Yambor said. “We are all fighting the same battle, so we have done some things to try to attract and retain people, like increase our pay scale and adding more layers of benefits.
“Even on the part-time side we have increased our pay. And during COVID, we have paid some bonuses to encourage people to hang in with us. But our competition is out there doing the same thing.”
Independent grocers have to stay relevant and current to keep up with competitors, both on the sales and the labor sides. Yambor said Fairvalue is known for its customer service and its perishables department.
“Our meat departments and our delis are our pillars,” he said. “We do a lot of local buying. We are very competitive on staple items – eggs, milk, bananas, sugar, that type of item – and try to win those categories as much as we can.”
Yambor noted that grocers are benefitting from the popularity of TV cooking shows and the trend of people learning how to cook.
“It makes us think…and ask ourselves if we need to focus [our marketing] more on featuring recipes and meal building for our customers,” he said. “We are thinking about adding more quick prep, pick-and-go build-a-meal type stuff for our delis.”