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Independents, Down-Home Roots Focus Of Piggly Wiggly Southeast

Piggly Wiggly Southeast

Last updated on June 14th, 2024 at 10:43 am

Building on the brand’s iconic history, C&S Wholesale Grocers, LLC (C&S) operates corporate Piggly Wiggly stores while serving independent franchisees under a chain-style model known as Piggly Wiggly Southeast. The grocer offers the selections and assortments of a national chain with the service and customization of a community-based retailer. 

C&S acquired Piggly Wiggly Carolina, a longtime supplier and retail entity across South Carolina and Georgia, in 2014 after a long partnership between the two companies, according to John Owens, VP and general manager of the Southeast for C&S. 

The partnership between Piggly Wiggly Southeast and C&S dates to the early 2010s. Struggling financially, Piggly Wiggly wasn’t doing enough volume to help support its independent customers. Piggly Wiggly Carolina made the decision to exit the distribution side of the business and partner with C&S. That, in turn, eventually led to the acquisition.

Owens, an industry veteran who was working for a different company at the time, said the decision was made to mutually benefit C&S, Piggly Wiggly Southeast, and the vendor community at large.

C&S offered to buy what was then known as “Piggly Wiggly Retail Services” under Piggly Wiggly Carolina. It is now an organization within C&S known as Retail Services. Retail Services provides the merchandising, marketing, accounting, franchising and refrigeration services to more than 50 stores in South Carolina and parts of Georgia, Owens said. 

C&S wanted to focus on continued support of independent-owned Piggly Wiggly stores. That’s the origin of much of the merchandising and slogans, including “Down home. Down the street,” “Piggly Wiggly, local since forever” and “When you see this face, you know you’re in the right place.”

C&S also holds the Piggly Wiggly brand, which was acquired by C&S in 2003, as part of the acquisition of the Flemming Company.

No matter where you find “The Pig,” C&S wants to ensure that what it offers is going to benefit communities. Each Piggly Wiggly has national connections while staying true to its down-home roots. This comes in the form of branding, merchandising and e-commerce. 

Circulars are some of the most common – and diverse – examples of branding, according to John Gianakas, senior director of national merchandising for C&S. The company distributes circulars to Piggly Wigglys on a weekly basis. Each area is different and some can be unique to specific stores. 

“We have independent owners, and they own the content of the circular,” Gianakas explained. “We produce a circular for them and then they make any changes that they would like to make.

“If they would like to add items into the circular, if they want to lower the retails in the circular, if they want to do any features, human interest stories, anything they want – we facilitate on their behalf.”

C&S also hosts The Pig’s websites. Piggly Wiggly operates the main site, pigglywiggly.com, as well as distinct pages for both Piggly Wiggly Southeast and Piggly Wiggly Midwest. The main website helps direct customers to the proper website. Gianakas gave an example of people in Louisiana hoping to find the website for their local Piggly Wiggly. 

“Let’s say they want to see a Pig store that they want to know something more about or see their circular, they can click on that location, and it will take them to their website,” he said.

Website hosting is something that C&S was handling long before it acquired the Piggly Wiggly name. At the beginning of 2023, it relaunched the website with new graphics, logos and branding campaigns, as well as improved navigation, Gianakas said. 

The hosting site is also the retailers’ main portal to The Pig’s brand. There, they can access logos, uniforms, branding information and “Piggly Wiggly Swag.” 

The iconic pig

C&S has also been working on the Piggly Wiggly brand. Gianakas said it updated all the logos, merchandising and packaging for the first time in more than 20 years. This included redesigning of the Piggly Wiggly private-branded products, which last occurred in the 1990s.

Branding also is a large part of C&S’s services. The Pig is an iconic brand, Owens said.

“Whether it be Jimmy Buffet or Bill Murray or somebody who’s visiting from France who goes to Myrtle Beach and buys a t-shirt and wears it back, you can see the pig face show up anywhere. It’s a local thing,” he said. 

These branding campaigns change about every three years, but C&S always wants to emphasize the independent retailers that are working to feed communities. As of March, Piggly Wiggly was undergoing its “it’s not” campaign. Slogans such as “It’s not the holidays without the Pig” or “It’s not a family picnic without the Pig” can be seen throughout stores. 

“It’s always something to show we’re a part of your community,” Owens said. “We invest in the community. We’re local. We’re locally operated. We’re not owned by some foreign conglomerate or some huge corporation. Each one is owned by members within the communities that they service.” 

The campaigns are implemented throughout the more than 500 Piggly Wigglys across the country. Owners are notified and directed to their portals to purchase signs, uniforms or various advertising materials. They can take the campaign as far as they’d like. 

Some owners source billboards or buy local radio or TV ad space. They can customize their store layout, décor, and offerings in accordance with the Piggly Wiggly brand.  “They have the flexibility to cater to their customers and their community,” Gianakas said.

Keeping close to the pen

Piggly Wiggly experienced much success during the COVID-19 pandemic. The shift from dining out to at home affected the supermarket industry and Gianakas said Piggly Wiggly owners tended to fare very well. He attributed that to Piggly Wiggly’s homestyle connection to communities and the safety they provided. 

“People became uncomfortable going to the big box stores in the midst of the pandemic because they’re around more people,” he said. “They felt more comfortable going into more neighborhood-type stores.

“We found that our independent owners had a vested interest because they own the business. They wanted to make sure that it was safe for the customers.”

Gianakas noted that many national brands took similar precautions, with plexiglass, advanced sanitation practices and personal protective equipment practices quite common. But Pig owners did more than that. They took time to care for loyal customers, get to know new faces – even though they were hidden by masks – and invest even more support into local organizations, which made all the difference. 

“We found that Piggly Wiggly stores, certainly to the ones that we manage … outpaced the rest of the market,” he said. “And when they were able to outpace the rest of the market from a sales perspective, that translated to improved customer satisfaction and updated stores.”

C&S helps its members facilitate these upgrades. The company employs a full-time design consultant for independents whose sole job is to serve as a general advisor for any changes they would like to make. That could include providing computer-aided designs, connecting with equipment vendors and identifying energy-saving practices.

“He acts as a kind of project manager for remodels or for upgrades,” Owens said. “He can bring in contractors, electricians, painters, refrigeration experts, whoever it might be. They’ll work with the store owners to bring whatever they might need to make the store better.”

‘Mud and clay’

The process of starting any business can be daunting. Luckily, C&S helps prospective Pig owners through the process. One of the first steps to becoming a Piggly Wiggly owner is identifying a location.

That process is determined by several factors. Some Piggly Wigglys can be opened through repurposed or vacant buildings while others must be “built up from the mud and clay.” Once a location has been identified, C&S helps owners’ vet the prospective sales among other statistics. 

“We will look at everything from the expense structure to the prospective business,” Gianakas said. “What is the population? Who is the target demographic? How does that fit with the Piggly Wiggly brand, with the products and services that are offered by Piggly Wiggly? And then we will help them with sales projections.”

After the stats have been pinpointed, C&S continues to work with the owner to design a potential store layout and identify the best products to carry. In some cases, it also will aid in finding financial support. 

When it comes time for the store to open, the company will schedule a grand opening ceremony. C&S also will invite local media and community leaders to the celebration, generating as much exposure as possible. 

C&S will continue to partner with the store for four weeks to ensure everything runs smoothly, Gianakas said. Then it all comes back to the continuous services C&S provides, such as merchandising and advertising. 

The company also offers its members access to product specialists. For the 53 stores that Piggly Wiggly Southeast covers, there are two meat product specialists (who are former department managers) and one specialist each for produce and deli-bakery. 

And much like the weekly circulars that C&S provides, the company sends out a weekly newsletter to help maintain communication with stores and keep owners current on products and operations.

At the same time, owners frequently communicate with each other. Sometimes it’s to share business practices. Other times, it’s just to catch up and maintain friendships.

“Some grew up with each other. They know each other. They don’t really compete,” Gianakas said. “They see each other as part of a team. They are a Piggly Wiggly family.”

For more information, visit cswg.com.

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