The late Don Olsen started his grocery business in 1975 in Yuma, Arizona, building several stores and purchasing commercial properties all throughout the ensuing decades.
Around 1992-93, he relocated and opened a store in the rural town of Ajo. He and his wife, Bryanne, married in 2002 and from that point, she helped run the business. Don Olsen died in 2016, and Bryanne has since been running the store by herself.
She was quick to praise her entire team in maintaining Olsens Marketplace IGA.
“They are just excellent. I would say the average length of time with all 30 employees averaging their employment time, it’d be 10 to 12 years.”
She decribed Ajo as a “very rural” community. It sits in the middle of the Sonoran Desert with Gila Bend, 40 miles to the north, and Sonoyta, Mexico 40 miles to the south. And a short drive east or south leads to the Tohono O’odham Nation Reservation.
Her store offers produce, meats and national brands but has an extensive variety when it comes to home improvement.
“My husband had the vision maybe 12 years ago…we wanted to put an Ace Hardware inside our 20,000-square-foot store. And by golly, Ace had come up with a 4,000-square-foot format of product that is the most common that homeowners want. So we created the space and our Ace department has taken off…it’s been a real good fit for all.”
Olsens community service
The store has established itself as a community pillar in Ajo, as well as cities nearby. And once the pandemic hit, there were opportunities to help out.
Bryanne recalls the Cocopah, Indian nation had a COVID-19 pandemic-related grant for meat boxes of $200 per person and wanted to feed its elders.
“They asked the bigger stores around Yuma and nobody wanted to take it on…they just couldn’t be bothered with it,” she said. “They called us. And I said, ‘Sure, we can do that.’”
The butcher and store associates loaded boxes with chicken and ground beef; each one totaling about $200, with the order equaling about $15,000. They were able to fill two cargo vans with the boxes and drove them from Ajo to Somerton, Arizona.
Or another time when store management decided to help a local church fundraiser barbecue by supplying 250 pounds of brisket.
“So the little guy – us – we can pivot real fast. And so both of those customer [groups] will remember us,” Bryanne said.
Another example of a community partnership was a food bank operated by the Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture. During Thanksgiving, it received various donations and was able to purchase $5,000 worth of gift certificates to use at Olsen’s Marketplace IGA.
“I see it, and feel it as synergy,” Bryanne said. “[The customers] come in and shop with us…we then turn around and give product to the food bank. We give monetary donations quarterly to four of our main organizations in Ajo, one of them being the volunteer fire department…so it’s just like a seamless ball that just continues to turn is the way I see it.”
Word of mouth
Olsens Marketplace IGA does not have a major focus on online offerings. However, Bryanne did mention the success of its social media presence.
“We have a fabulous relationship and partnership with Elevated Brands, our social media company. Of course, they do other things for us, too, but they got to start it in that.”
A key product for the grocer as well is its Sonoran Specialty Meats, which Bryanne said gets sufficient business through word of mouth. Since 1975, it has been cooking up specialty meats for the Ajo and Yuma communities.
“Our famous Kammann’s German Sausages are a 100 percent premium pork recipe that was brought from Germany by the Kammann Family,” the website reads.
The sausages also became the star of the Rotary Clubs’ International Buffet competition, which started in 1958.
“As the event grew, Don Olsen – a longtime Arizona grocer – was handed production of the sausages at his Olsens Marketplace IGA and the recipe has been in the Olsen family ever since,” according to the grocer’s history.
Today, Sonoran Specialty Meats has expanded offerings to include Southwestern-flavored meats, including Carne Asada, Pollo Asado and Primo Chorizo.
Bryanne said the plan for 2022 is to keep moving forward at the current pace.
“Our future goal is to just to keep on the trajectory we’re on and to stay ahead of price increases as fast as we can…we’re not expanding anywhere,” she said. “I can tell you that we just want to stay on top of what we’re doing and stay ahead of the price increases.”