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Local Merchandising Essential To The Save Mart’s Neighborhood Identity

Save Mart
James Gillespie

James Gillespie is senior director of local merchandising at The Save Mart Companies. He acknowledges it’s a department not found at most retailers. 

The local merchandising department tries to find those products that are important to local shoppers in each neighborhood. “It’s about getting our stores to be merchandised to the neighborhood to what our consumers are looking for,” he explained.

Gillespie said the department goes after local vendors, such as a popular bakery in Livermore or a brewery in Sacramento. The goal is to find the places consumers visit and bring those products in through the stores.

“We can get it unique to the store, to the neighborhood, to the county,” he said. “And as these vendors grow and they’re good products for us, we grow with them.”

It’s possible for a product initially carried in one or two stores to eventually expand across the entire banner or even all three banners of The Save Mart Companies.

Gillespie has been with the company for 31 years, starting off in stores in the Bay Area. He worked his way up through operations, store management, operations supervisor and then moved to the headquarters where he started in category management and buying. He moved into his current position late last year, following the retirement of his predecessor. 

Gillespie’s wife of about five years also works for the company and has for more than two decades, he said. They have a blended family with five daughters between them. “She’s an assistant manager at one of our stores. So when we say Save Mart family, we are a Save Mart family,” Gillespie said.

While the COVID-19 pandemic created supply chain challenges for nearly all grocers, Gillespie said The Save Mart Companies was in a good position.

“As products are unavailable with some of the major CPG companies, we were able to lean on a lot of local vendors to help supply our consumers with products on our shelves,” he said. “It’s a little bit of a different scenario, but our customers in our stores really look for those local products.”

Gillespie said they find local vendors a variety of ways but the most common is through store managers. “Our store managers reach out to us…they’ll send it to us, and we go after it and look for that vendor,” he said.

Just identifying local vendors is not enough, as they have to meet the legal and food safety requirements to sell products in California.

“We like to say that if we’re really interested in the product, we give them time and we give them the steps that they need to do in order to be legal to be able to sell in our stores,” Gillespie explained.

He noted that the department is unique in that, financially, it covers every department in the stores.

“My hands are dipped in produce and meat and grocery, liquor, wine – we’re in wine country, right? So 80 percent of the wines we carry are technically local. I kind of have my hands in all of it,” he said. 

Identifying and partnering with local vendors is an evolving and fluid process, he said.

“Part of my job is how do I make that store in that certain neighborhood reflect that neighborhood in the products that people want to sell,” said Gillespie, adding that it’s not just local but ethnic products as well. “That’s what our job is – how do we be the local store for all our consumers? How do we get to that neighborhood?”

While The Save Mart Companies have evolved over the years, one thing hasn’t changed to Gillespie – the family environment and atmosphere.

“The culture is still in place today as it was when Bob [Piccinini] was here, and it lives throughout all the stores, the offices, everything…the foundation of how Bob built this company still lives and breathes today.”

For more information, visit thesavemartcompanies.com.

To read the full Retailer of the Year flip book on The Save Mart Companies by The Shelby Report, click here.

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