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Baesler’s Market Finds Hospitality Key To Success In Terre Haute, Sullivan

Baesler's Market Terre Haute
Bob Baesler, right, with son Casey

Baesler’s Market is a fifth-generation independent grocery store with two locations – Terre Haute and Sullivan, Indiana. 

Bob Baesler, president, said his great-grandfather started Baesler’s Meat Market in 1894 in Terre Haute. 

His grandfather and father continued in the business, with Bob starting at age 13, working on Saturdays. His son, Casey, is manager of the Terre Haute store.

Baesler said when he went to Indiana State University, he did not have the intention of staying in the grocery business. “I thought I wanted to be a stockbroker; something a little more glamorous.”

As a senior, he changed his mind after reading a booklet, “Acres of Diamonds,” by Russell Conwell, who went on to found Temple University in the early 1900s. It told a story of a man in Persia who was a successful farmer. 

When diamonds were discovered in other parts of the country, he sold the farm, moved his family in with neighbors and left in search of diamonds. A year later, he had lost all of his money. When he visited the man he had sold his farm to, he noticed beautiful rocks on the mantel, which the man said he had found in the creek in the backyard. They were diamonds.

“There were about a half a dozen of those stories,” said Baesler, adding that he realized he should just stay in the grocery business instead of searching for success elsewhere. “It’s not been acres of diamonds, but we’ve made a good living and I’ve enjoyed it.”

He graduated college in 1972 and returned to the business. “I’ve been sacking groceries and getting carts on the lot for 60 years, I guess.”

While there have been challenges throughout the years, dealing with competition has been the toughest. Baesler said, as an independent, he wished “there was more of a level playing field with vendors. There’s not.”

He said they continue to try to differentiate themselves by being “the best or different or first. We try to be first in the market whenever we can.”

Baesler’s Market was named as a Master Marketer award winner by UNFI in 2021 for its Fresh Department.

While Indiana is a business-friendly state, Baesler said he would like to see the federal government do what it can to help level the playing field for independents by enforcing the Robinson-Patman Act.

Inflation also has hit independents hard. Baesler said many times they haven’t be able to adjust their prices because of their competition, noting they sold eggs below cost through Thanksgiving and Christmas last year. 

Adding in the increased cost of supplies, packaging and utilities, Baesler said they have not been able to raise prices enough to offset a lot of their costs.

However, success has come in the fact that the business has grown over the years, which included opening the store in Sullivan. The two stores are not huge – Terre Haute, 36,000 square feet; Sullivan, 29,000 – but they are the right size for their customers, he said. 

“We’ve had certified Angus beef for over 30 years, and we’ve been a Boar’s Head distributor. We’ve tried to offer the best products that are available,” he said. 

While some stores are more focused on price, he has tried to be consistent. “We have the same potato salad, macaroni salad and slaw that we’ve had for 30 years, and we’ve stayed with the same company. There are other companies a lot of times that will switch their salads line just for a 10-cent savings or 20-cents savings. The consistency that we’ve been able to offer our customers, I think, has been to our advantage.”

While his employees offer great customer service, Baesler’s focus for the stores is on hospitality. He cited a quote from Maya Angelou that he uses with his staff: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

He said they started talking about the importance of hospitality a few years ago.

“Hospitality, I think, is how you make somebody feel. Sacking groceries, that’s customer service. But how you make somebody feel” is hospitality.

Baesler also shows hospitality through his accessibility to the community to help with fundraisers and donations. “We try to support everybody that asks,” he said, adding that is another way to differentiate them from competitors.

The thing he enjoys most about being an independent grocer is making his customers happy with the food they get from his stores. “We have a lot of great customers, which makes it more enjoyable.”

They also have a lot of great employees – about 225 between the two stores. “Our employees are our differentiating factor, there’s no question.” 

Baesler noted The Terre Haute Tribune-Star just came out with its Reader’s Choice Award, and “we’ve always received ‘the best place to buy groceries.’ Ever since they started [the awards program] we’ve received that.” Baesler’s Market also received the “best customer service” award this year.

“Last year, we lost it to Chick-fil-A, and the year before we had it. I think we’ve rotated. Chick-fil-A does an awfully good job.”

He said the employees are “definitely the reason” for the awards, “or for anything that we do that we’re successful at. It’s because of having so many great employees.”

About the author

Treva Bennett

Senior Content Creator

After 32 years in the newspaper industry, she is enjoying her new career exploring the world of groceries at The Shelby Report.

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