Louisiana-based Associated Grocers Inc. of Baton Rouge (AGBR) has a close relationship with its more than 180 independent retailers spanning the Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas regions, offering them a “complete support system.”
“We pride ourselves on service, which sets us apart from our competitors,” said Pete Tortorich, VP of retail operations – business development and merchandising.
This includes 15 merchandisers on the perishable team, another eight retail account managers and then several center store and general merchandise service merchandisers. The company also has a special sales manager at retail, who sets up sales as a turnkey program.
“He’ll set up the events from start to finish and also is supported by merchandisers, as well as the vendor community. And those sales can generate as much as five to six times a normal day’s sales.”
Tortorich, who has been with the company for 28 years, said what used to be a one-day meat sale has since been expanded to a one-day sale that covers all departments in a store, “from front door to back door.”
AGBR also provides many other services and solutions that allow independent supermarkets to compete with the national chains. For example, the company helps its retailers with item selection for ads.
Its marketing department takes that information and builds the ads from scratch, Tortorich said, “all the way from the newspaper ad to print to social media.”
The company also helps its members with their online presence, building Facebook pages and developing websites.
In addition, Associated Grocers comes to its members’ aid during times of natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tornadoes or floods.
“We’ll have a full team that’s ready to go out and help put that store back together,” said Tortorich, adding that this includes even a total rebuild through AG subsidiary Dart Commercial Services.
“They’ll go in and draw up the plans. The merchandising teams will go in and lay out and select the equipment, and then go back in and put it together and place the orders. They help fill it and merchandise it.”
AGBR also offers accounting assistance to its members through the finance department’s Retail Store Accounting service. RSA can provide member retailers with all of their accounting needs, Tortorich said.
The AG human resources department helps its retailer members with recruiting employees by hosting job fairs prior to a new store opening or if a store is expanding.
Associated Grocers has a robust private label program, which is popular with its retail members, Tortorich said. In today’s economy, more consumers are turning to private label brands in an effort to save money. “The quality compares just as well as the national brands.”
He said the company’s No. 1 brand is Food Club, along with Crav’n and a second-tier label, That’s Smart. Associated Grocers also offers different private labels for each department.
According to Tortorich, the COVID-19 pandemic helped kick off the growth in private label, and inflation has continued that growth trend.
“We went from running about a 12 percent penetration on private brands to currently at 19-1/2 percent [over the last three to four years].” He said the wholesaler continues to offer five month-long promotions throughout the year, along with weekly promotions of private brands.
Tortorich said when issues delivering products arise, the company is quick to respond. It will offer alternative items to help retailers until those they want are available.
Associated Grocers also provides a service for “hot shots.” If a retailer is experiencing greater sales than projected and needs more product, the company has a merchandising team member on call over weekends and all major holidays. If a retailer needs additional product, “we’re going to get it in the van if we have it and get it to them.”
An additional support program is in the testing phase. “A retailer gets three deliveries a week, he realizes he’s running short, he can call in today and we’ll have it on a truck sometime tomorrow,” Tortorich explained.
This level of service offered to its members is one of the reasons AGBR has continued to grow. He added the company also prides itself in its fresh departments, which are “driven by quality and support.”