Uptown Grocery banners arrive in OKC
by Eric Pereira / content creator
This year, Ray Pruett, owner of Pruett’s Foods, acquired two Buy For Less locations to open his new Uptown Grocery banners in Oklahoma City.
He is a third-generation owner and his children work in the business as well. Pruett operates his stores mainly in the southeast corner of Oklahoma, which he said is primarily high poverty rural communities.
“The old joke is that we stack Velveeta cheese in the gourmet section,” he said.
With his new Uptown Grocery locations, the higher income neighborhoods, merchandising and many other things are different.
“These locations in Oklahoma City…they’re high-end locations. They’re in very affluent markets,” he said. “So it has been a different demographic than what we’re used to. And it’s created a bit of a learning curve for us.”
When opening a new store in rural Oklahoma, Pruett’s Foods was always a familiar name to the community. And it was a name that also brought relief.
“We had that hero’s welcome when we came in. And when we came to Oklahoma City – I was used to buying stores that that needed a little bit of a facelift,” he said. “And so, we bought stores…then put fresh capital in it and did major remodels…so those communities were very excited when we had an opportunity to come in.”
Things changed when Pruett took over what he called “successful” Buy For Less locations. And, as he pointed out, customers were apprehensive to change.
The hero’s welcome was gone. Pruett said they felt more like villains and customers were “very vocal,” to some changes.
“It’s been different. But it’s nice to be making progress, though,” he said.
One adjustment the company had to make was from the customer dissatisfaction of the grocer not accepting American Express cards (because of the rates they charge the business). This issue was resolved in a few days.
Another change over which he feels some people are holding a grudge is that Pruett’s Foods doesn’t sell alcohol.
“I like to get a cocktail every once in a while myself. But for us, I think we’ve all got a sad story to tell of a tragedy of a drunk driver or a family that’s just had a horrible impact made on them from alcohol and addiction. And I just don’t want to be in that business,” Pruett said.
“On top of that, there are some really good liquor stores and wine stores – they’re much better at that than I am.”
Coming from small towns as well, the urge to get involved with alcohol wasn’t there because they didn’t want to compete with the local liquor store.
With these learning curves, Pruett credits his ability to adjust to the new environment with the help from Hank and Susan Binkowski, owners of Buy For Less.
“It was a completely different market than I was used to. And Hank was so good to come alongside and coach me a little bit after the sale,” Pruett said. “And because I really was a fish out of water, especially with so much specialty food…I’ve been very fortunate to have someone take time to mentor me.”
Online sales, supply chain and local
Pruett’s Foods rural community stores are seeing far less online traffic, according to the owner. The grocer uses Shipt as their “main driver” for online shopping.
“For us, we’ve seen the online fall off pretty steep,” Pruett said. “From probably 40 percent…for a lot of it, particularly in the rural communities…there might be 5 percent of the people that are still wearing a mask.”
They have 12 grocery locations across Oklahoma and a standalone pharmacy and one grocery store in Arkansas.
In regard to the supply chain, he said the company was having a “terrible time” keeping bottled water on shelves in late September.
“It seems like most of the perishable side of the business is very good – minor issues on produce we’re seeing some inflationary issues of course on the meat side. One thing that is kind of odd is some of the floral varieties has become more difficult and, again, we’re kind of learning the floral business in these markets. But you know, we’ve got one store that did almost $20,000 this weekend in floral.”
Pruett’s Foods looks forward to continuing its partnerships with local vendors, especially in rural markets. He highlighted the interest in the Made In Oklahoma Coalition, which is “dedicated to building up agricultural-based companies,” per their website.
“In our state, we really support those [companies], and we try to encourage that,” Pruett said. “And so that’s been a big plus.”
For more information on Uptown Grocery, click here.
To see photos from the Made In Oklahoma Expo, click here.