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Retailer of the Year West

People-First Lucky California Really Wants ‘Our Folks To Shine’


Bobby McDowell, VP of store operations for Lucky California, got his start in the industry in 1983 with Skaggs Alpha Beta. He has worked his way up through the ranks and has worked with a couple of different companies over his career, including box-format stores.

Lucky California
Bobby McDowell

His aunt worked at Alpha Beta and got him a job there. He said he learned a valuable lesson while working there – “In the grocery business, there’s always something to do.”

McDowell, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves for six years, attended the Food Executive Program at Cornell University after joining The Save Mart Companies.

He and his wife, who is senior director of business analytics for The Save Mart Companies, have a blended family – each with a grown daughter. They also have one grandchild. 

McDowell said his typical work week starts with a couple of days in the office and then he’s out in the field.

“That’s where it all happens. It happens in the store,” he said. “We can only see so much from the office, and we want to make sure we’re out supporting the stores and providing for all their needs. We have a very servant-leadership atmosphere and culture here. When we go to the stores, we’re asking them what can we do to help them succeed.”

McDowell said he does a Lucky California banner broadcast most weeks that is viewed on break room TVs. He tries to pick a different store each week, based on some performance metric. “I want to celebrate with them,” he added. 

The Lucky California banner has about 4,000 team members and 66 stores. McDowell has 10 directors of operations who report to him.

“It’s a flatter structure than we’ve had in the past where I have one person between me and the store. I love having that close connection with the stores,” he said.

Lucky California

Each week also includes a conference call where the camera makes it more interactive, McDowell said. Once every four to six weeks, he will have face-to-face meetings with his directors.

“We really spend that time – I call it sharpening our axe – helping us become even better leaders than we are today for our store teams,” McDowell said. “We spend a lot of time with that, a lot of the strategy and the different things that we’re working on. We talk about that every week. 

“I also schedule my visits each week to where I’m out with the directors. I try to make sure I get quality time with each of them and also do one-on-one meetings with them.”

McDowell said he measures himself by the growth of his people and “the success they create for the banner, because everything that happens, happens through our team…we really want our folks to shine and to be able to talk about what they’re doing because, at the end of the day, we want people who are independent thinkers.”

Store managers come in periodically “just to reset or talk about new strategies…but at the end of the day, we empower them to really lead in that servant leadership way that we talk about.”

McDowell, who has been with The Save Mart Companies since the 2007 acquisition of several Albertsons stores, said he “absolutely loves the culture of this company.”

While it may sound cliché, it “really is a people-first organization.”

“We think about our people first. We promote our people. We really practice servant leadership so that we serve the needs of our team. Everybody understands the expectations, and they know they have our support,” he said. “I think we do a really good job of promoting our people, making sure our folks are pushed to the forefront and get the credit for the different things that are going on.”

For more information, visit thesavemartcompanies.com.

To read the full Retailer of the Year section on Lucky California and The Save Mart Companies by The Shelby Report, click here.

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