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Village Beach Market In Vero Beach Striving To Be ‘Simply Better’

Village Beach Market

Village Beach Market in Vero Beach, Florida, is a three-generation legacy of the Keen family. Jason Keen runs it, having taken over after his father, Jerry, died three years ago.

His grandfather started the business in 1951, and Jerry Keen took the reins when he was 20.

“He lost his dad when he was only 20 years old and came out of college. He came back into the business and grew the business,” Jason Keen said of his father.

In the late 1980s and early ’90s, the Keens owned four stores. They downsized when the big box retailers moved in and now have Village Beach Market. However, growth may again be in the company’s future, Jason Keen said.

Jason Keen

He said the store underwent a major remodel – $3.5 million – a year ago to “update it and prepare us for the future.” The major premise of the remodel was to become more energy efficient and update the overall equipment. The store was using the older R22 refrigerant gas, which is being phased out by the EPA.

The planning process began about three years ago, prior to Jerry Keen’s death and the COVID-19 pandemic. Jason Keen said they wanted to focus more on prepared foods and fresh fruits. They also wanted to expand the kitchen space, which resulted in a decrease to the center store sales area.

“But based on the trends at that time, three years ago, that’s where everything was trending was more into the fresh side,” he said. “We still see that trend today, at least in our market. People want more convenience and fresh food.”

He said since the remodel, convenience and fresh foods are definitely “paving the way in our store.”

COVID challenges

Keen described the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic as “extraordinary.”

“It was hectic, it was unprecedented – the amount of business when they shut down the restaurants,” he said. “That was a huge opportunity.”

While it brought more revenue, the increased business also was “a burden that we carried as a store in our area to provide for our small community. It was definitely a very difficult and challenging time,” said Keen, adding that everyone pulled together.

While supply chain challenges were present early in the pandemic, Keen said they got “extremely tough” over the last eight months, “almost worse than they were before, when COVID first hit.”

As the number of COVID-19 cases declines, the supply chain remains “pretty crippled,” Keen said. Transportation issues, such as not enough truck drivers, along with labor issues in other industries continue to play a part in product delays.

“There were a lot of different factors, but it just seemed like there were so many people that were sitting on the sidelines and not really wanting to come back to work,” Keen said. “And that has been a huge burden for our staff.” 

While the Village Beach Market had been open seven days a week, supply chain and labor shortages forced Keen to go to a six-day-a-week operation. He said the market is a “faith family business, Christian-owned.”

“We have always wanted to provide our staff with one unified day of rest, very similar to Chick-fil-A, where we can have an environment where our staff can enjoy one day off together, where they can guarantee that from week to week…so we’re closed on Sundays now,” he said.

Even with the challenges of COVID and the remodel – the store was closed for seven months – Keen was able to keep his full-time employees and solidify the staff’s core.

“We wanted to keep the team members together, and it proved to us that we could. We could stay together,” he said. “…Sure, it was exhausting and trying at times, but it gave us a new inner strength.”

The challenges gave the store’s 40 employees more resiliency as a team.

“Overall, it’s given us hope and encouragement that we can still come together and help each other out and be better for it in the long run,” he said.

Future is online

As the pandemic hit, Keen said the market was ready to change over to a new point of sale system. When that didn’t happen, he had to take orders via email and phone calls. 

He said he is continuing to work toward establishing an online presence for the store but wants to make sure it’s efficient and integrated, particularly with employees handling the online orders.

Village Beach Market treats customers as extended family members. It is involved in the community and supports it in a variety of ways. Those include sponsoring local events or helping groups such as church choirs or the local Boy Scout troop. It also supports various school events, including sports.

“I wish we could do more,” he said. “We want to make our community a better place and to be a light in our community.”

Developing leaders

Through everything that has happened in recent years, Keen said he has found a calling to help develop leaders in his team.

“I want to build these leadership skills and team assets across our organization, even into future growth opportunities,” he said. “We are looking to continue to grow and add new locations. That’s been a very exciting and rewarding part for me…working and trying to find the right leaders to come and grow with us and become an organization that’s thriving.

“And to make us simply better as an organization but more so as a witness and a testimony to who God calls us to be. And that’s to love our neighbors and to be there for our neighbors.”

Keen is grateful for the support and encouragement he and his Village Beach Market team have received.

“No one is alone,” he said. “We always depend on each other, to help each other out and move each other forward. I’m just so thankful for the blessings God has given me and the opportunities He’s given me and the people that He’s blessed me to be with and who have poured into us, into our team.”

For more information, visit villagebeachmarket.com.

About the author

Treva Bennett

Senior Content Creator

After 32 years in the newspaper industry, she is enjoying her new career exploring the world of groceries at The Shelby Report.

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