Dave Herbers, VP of non-food, alcohol and pharmacy for The Save Mart Companies, was on a different path before he joined the grocery industry. Growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, he attended Miami University in Ohio and majored in math and statistics.
After a stint with General Electric, he “spent 13 fantastic years in the food industry with Kroger,” Herbers said. “I learned a lot. I got to work in a number of different divisions, and actually moved five different times.”
Herbers described the pharmacy business as tough, noting that it is going through a “huge transformation” in the U.S. and throughout the world. The companies that manage insurance payments are the driving force.
“We do not determine retail, we do not determine cost. Both those factors are given to us,” he said. “It’s a very challenging department.”
Herbers said The Save Mart Companies is fortunate to partner with Topco, the largest American food retail group purchasing organization, at its 89 pharmacies. “With Topco, we are now able to play with the big boys,” he said. “Topco is probably fifth in purchasing powers.”
The Save Mart Companies has a senior executive director of pharmacy, with two senior directors that are out in the field – one supports Lucky stores, the other Save Mart. There are no pharmacies in the FoodMaxx chain.
Topco manages the pharmacy supply chain and puts out the bids “to get us the best possible cost,” Herbers said. “Topco is a great source for us for any type of continuing education for our pharmacists and for any type of legislation.”
Married for 37 years, Herbers and his wife have three grown children. Shifting to the alcohol part of his duties, he said The Save Mart Companies started doing well with it 70 years ago and has been able to build upon that.
“We had very good, excellent supervision of that category,” he said. “I attribute that to the success that we earned and put to the bottom line during the COVID-19 pandemic…and we were positioned extremely well in the pandemic to take advantage of that when the restaurants and bars closed.”
Herbers said The Save Mart Companies’ customers “really don’t want to go anywhere else and there really wasn’t any other place to go. So we capitalized on that. And we gave them great prices, great promotions. The Save Mart Companies was able to keep a significant amount of that market share gain [after the reopening].”
Also during that time period, right before COVID hit, there was an “explosion of all the different drinking options that you have, such as White Claw.”
“You see those alternate drinks; now you have the ready-to-drink,” he said. “You can buy a Manhattan off the shelf and it will probably taste as good if not better than what you would mix at home.”
He said the challenge is picking from the selection available. “The stores are not getting bigger, if anything, they’re really kind of getting smaller. The Save Mart Companies focuses on more of the fresh and the produce and the food service functions – that takes up space. So we are challenged to do more with less,” he said.
As far as the wine selection, Herbers said, “We hit it out of the park. Anybody will tell you that on everything that’s basically $18 and less, we just win that.”
He said he is committed to hiring people who have an expertise in wine, which has been tested in three stores.
“We have three stores that we’ve invested in,” Herbers said. “They do very well.”
As far as non-food items, such as household essentials and home care, Herbers said those have a “great presence” in the store.
“Our department is, I think, critical,” he said. “Whether we are a destination like a produce or meat department, we are still very, very important to the customer.”
For more information, visit thesavemartcompanies.com.
To read the full Retailer of the Year section on The Save Mart Companies by The Shelby Report, click here.