Owner credits employees for store’s success in downtown Bath
Bath, Maine is a coastal town of some 8,700 people located about 40 miles north of Portland. “Or as we always like to say, we’re 20 minutes north of L.L. Bean, because everybody knows L.L. Bean,” said Kimberly Brackett, co-owner and VP of Brackett’s Market.
Located downtown, the independent grocery store sits across the street from the Kennebec River. “You can actually dock a boat and walk across the street and shop with us.”
A major industry in town, of which its residents are “extremely proud,” is Bath Iron Works, which builds the DDG-51 class of guided-missile destroyers for the U.S. Navy. “I can walk out my door and see the crane that is lifting the ship.”
Brackett described Bath as a “beautiful city that you think of when you think of New England.”
“We have the big, old white houses that are side by side as you walk down the sidewalk, a gazebo in the park with a pond and a statue, concerts in the park in the spring and summer and parades on the Fourth of July,” she said. “Our downtown is absolutely beautiful. It has brick sidewalks and gaslights, and almost every business in town is independently owned.”
New England native Brackett and her now ex-husband and business partner Steve moved from Georgia to Maine in 1996, seeking a change of lifestyle. He was a Kroger store manager, and she was a stay-at-home mom who had worked at Kroger while in college.
After doing some research, they found and bought a small store in Bath. They eventually moved the business into a larger site downtown. Several years ago, they bought the building.
Brackett’s mother designed the front of the store on a napkin. Brackett was sharing some thoughts on what she wanted it to look like, and her mom “doodled it out.” They still have the napkin, which is pinned to a wall.
The store has been very successful, Brackett said, and both partners have served their community – Steve on city council and Kimberly as school board chair. She also is on the NGA board, the IGA Advisory Board and a Rotarian. Steve also is involved, working with their wholesaler, Bozzuto’s in Connecticut.
They have established deep ties in the community and are committed to giving back. They say “yes” to just about everyone who asks. They support the local arts center, teams at the Y and sponsor concerts in the park. Brackett said they don’t make a big deal of their contributions.
“We’ve been so blessed…there’s no question that you have to give back to your community. Being brought up as a Christian, you just don’t take credit for it. Just do it and be thankful and move on.”
As in many parts of the nation, the economy in Maine is stressed. According to Brackett, “every single thing that touches our customers has gone up in price.”
In the middle of a cold winter, she said the prices of electricity, oil and gas have risen. “There’s really nothing in any of our customers’ lives that has not been increased…including food prices.”
Brackett said they are diligent when purchasing products to ensure they are getting the best deal and can pass that along to customers. Brackett’s Market also is closing an hour earlier in an effort to cut labor costs. “You look for how you could do things more efficiently.”
One option that some retailers are using – self-checkout – is something Brackett has “no interest in, whatsoever.”
“We pride ourselves on customer service,” she said. “People come here because they get that personalized customer service. And just from observing other stores that have self-checkout…it may be beneficial for the company, but it’s not beneficial for the customer.”
Being a family-owned independent, the satisfaction of their customers – not only with prices but the way they are treated as they check out – is important.
“I want them to have a very good experience,” she said. “And with the cost of everything the way it is right now, it is even more important that the customer is thanked and appreciated.”
Brackett also wants customers to enjoy their shopping trip and when at checkout, to “take a breather.”
With 35 employees, Brackett’s Market has a stable workforce. “We’re really at a good place. We’re not in desperate need of employees.”
Brackett attributed the store’s success to its employees.
“It is the hard work of the employees and the best face that they put forward – the way that they treat each other, the way they treat the customers and the way they treat the product,” she explained. “I think we all have to remember, as much as I want to be vice president or whatever title you give me, it is not as important as the title of bagger.”
The bagger is the last person to interact with the customer.
“I am definitely not as important as the bagger in this store,” she said. “That is the most important job, I believe, in the grocery store is the bagger.”
When asked her favorite part of being an independent grocer, Brackett said it is giving young people their first job. “I love doing that…I think it’s an honor.”
She goes over child labor laws with the young employees, saying they are strict on having them follow their schedules and the store’s dress code.
“Maybe one in 20 years will ever stay with me, but the rest – we’re helping to train these young people to step into the world to their next job,” she said.
Brackett enjoys looking at past employees’ Facebook pages and seeing what they are doing. She also appreciates and values the trust their parents give to make sure their children are safe and having a good experience at the store.
We at Meadowbrook camping love Bracketts and our store wouldn’t be what it is without Bracketts. We order our supplies every Monday and they are ready for pick-up on Friday. They differently make my job easier at our place. The staff is the best u will ever meet, Thanks to Kim, Steve and the staff. Looking forward to seeing you all in May.