Lynn Willard has been working with Piggly Wiggly since he was 16, starting as a part-time bagger. He continued into college, eventually deciding to leave school – and the grocery industry. But that didn’t last long.
“I said, ‘You know what? I miss the grocery business.’ I enjoyed it a lot,” he said. “I really liked what I was doing. I liked everything about it. So, I went back to the Piggly Wiggly, got a job and the rest is kind of history.”
He has worked with Piggly Wiggly Carolina, now known as Piggly Wiggly Southeast, since the family-owned business’ purchase by C&S Wholesale Grocers, LLC (C&S) in 2014. Piggly Wiggly Carolina had been facing some financial difficulties. That’s when Willard decided to become an owner.
“I approached Piggly Wiggly about selling some stores to me and I was able to secure some funding, because I didn’t have that kind of money,” he said. “And the short story is – it worked out.”
Willard began the ownership portion of his career with six Piggly Wigglys, doing business as Lowcountry Grocers. He’s since added eight more, with all 14 in South Carolina.
According to Willard, the move from managing to owning stores wasn’t “as bad as you might think.” He said he’s handled just about anything in the store. He got his first leadership position in 1992, when he became a corporate assistant store manager. He continued to run stores on a day-to-day basis for nine years.
In 2001, he became a district manager, supervising about 13 company-owned stores through Piggly Wiggly Carolina. By 2006, he was director of operations, with oversight of all retail locations for Piggly Wiggly Carolina. At the time, that was 86 stores.
“When I transitioned to ownership, I was already very confident and comfortable doing the day-to-day and operating a grocery store. What I had to adjust to was being an owner,” Willard said.
“Structuring and managing healthcare policies, 401(k), rent negotiations and leases, managing cash flow. The list is long,” he said. “I had to adjust and learn from an owner’s point of view. But even some of that – with the experience I had – wasn’t as difficult as you might think,” Willard explained.
He added that the change would have been much more difficult were it not for the help of an experienced team of managers and workers. He knew them all quite well. And over the years, he’s learned to adapt.
“I’ve had to delegate more and also trust the team a little more,” said Willard, adding that involves communication and making sure “everybody is on the same page. I’m not able to put my hands in it as it once was.”
Willard likes to touch base with all his stores, visiting one nearly every day of the week. He likes to know their ins and outs.
He also said his management style has evolved. At one point in his career, he would use store walks to point out what needed to be fixed or improved from a technical aspect. “Now, it’s how can I help? How can I assist? What do you have that I can help you with? What are your needs?”
Being part of the team is most important to him. Willard’s operational background allows him to see his stores “in the bigger picture.” Overall issues, trends or practices are consistently shared. The team’s coordination skills have been put to the test with ongoing store remodels. Two have been completed and a “major remodel” of Willard’s store in Florence, South Carolina, is well under way. He has plans to continue the upgrades well into 2024.
To read more from Piggly Wiggly Southeast by The Shelby Report, click here.