Last updated on September 13th, 2023 at 05:00 pm
Making sure no one in South Dakota goes hungry is not just a passion for RF Buche. He considers it a moral obligation. It’s why the fourth-generation president of the GF Buche Co. – which operates Buche Foods supermarkets and Gus Stop convenience stores among its retail ventures – strives to make it easier for folks to buy groceries as they struggle with high prices driven by inflation, or even live far from the nearest store without a way to get there.
Buche is in the process of installing temperature-controlled food lockers in Marty, South Dakota, which doesn’t have its own grocery store and the closest one is 16 miles away, allowing residents to order groceries online or with a smart device using SNAP, debit or credit. And he’s stocked a trailer with healthy foods, as well as essential products for communities on tribal lands and other areas where there are few means of transportation.
Going over and above to serve the people of South Dakota comes naturally for someone who, at age 4, snuck out of his house and walked through a blizzard so he could work alongside his dad in the family business.
Buche has worked at every level of the business and since 2000 has led the company that bears the name of his great-grandfather, who founded it back in 1905 in Lake Andes, South Dakota. Core values like great customer service, retail differentiation and always doing right by your customers have been handed down through each generation.
“My dad always taught me that no matter what decision you are making, if you are doing it for your customers, you are doing it for the right reason,” Buche said.
“At a young age, I saw my dad pay for groceries for a customer of ours in Gregory who could not afford everything she had in her grocery basket. After I asked my dad why he paid for her groceries, he told me that, as grocers, it is our duty to make sure no one ever goes hungry, even if that means it comes out of your own pocket. Even at a young age, that moment had a very impactful effect on me.”
For his customers, Buche offers perks to take the sting out of inflation, such as $3-off coupons for top selling items like 10-pound tubes of 80 percent lean ground beef, eggs and 12-packs of pop. Or 20 cents a gallon off your gas purchases when spending $50 on groceries. Or targeted offers like, on the last Wednesday of month at Buche’s store in Pine Ridge (one of the poorest communities in the U.S.), $20 gift cards to elders (age 55 and up) and free ground beef for military veterans. Or the “Double Up” program that gives customers $5 off their next food purchase when they spend $5 on fresh produce – a discount and an enticement to eat more fruits and vegetables.
“We understand that times are tight, so we’re doing all we can to make it easier for folks to feed their families,” Buche said. “As an independent grocer with deep roots in South Dakota, we’re committed to helping our neighbors in any way we can.”
In June, the Buche Foods in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, was one of only 100 stores in the U.S. selected to offer the Add Milk incentive. When families purchase skim or 1 percent milk, they receive money back to buy healthy food. The program is usually reserved for people who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but Buche Foods covered the cost so everyone in Pine Ridge, as well as the other communities where Buche operates, is able to take advantage of this incentive. Additionally, Buche Foods is the only independent grocer in South Dakota to accept SNAP payments online.
Buche elevates the mission of the company by instilling its values in its employees (known as team members) and recognizing for reflecting the Core Value of the Week. Managers at each store nominate team members from which one is recognized company-wide for embodying the best customer service, being adaptable, being growth oriented and always doing the right thing. A team member’s community involvement is also taken into consideration.
“Our team goes above and beyond to serve the place we all call home,” Buche said.
It’s clear that Buche himself goes above and beyond on behalf of the community, as well as the broader grocery industry.
The Washington, D.C.-based National Grocers Association, a trade association representing independent grocery operators, recently presented Buche with its prestigious Spirit of America Award, recognizing his commitment to the independent grocery industry and his work in his community. Established in 1982, the award honors key industry and community leaders in the areas of community service and government relations on behalf of the independent supermarket industry. Award winners include former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford.
In December 2021, Buche testified as part of a roundtable on hunger in rural America before the House Rules Committee, detailing his efforts to tackle food insecurity. He also discussed the difficulties independent grocery operators are having with obtaining high-demand products and the concerns the industry faces in keeping independents – particularly in rural and low-access communities – open and competitive when larger retailers are able to demand lower prices, priority access and exclusive package sizes from suppliers.
And in December 2022, Buche Foods in Pine Ridge hosted Federal Trade Commissioner Alvaro Bedoya, who saw firsthand the challenges of feeding people in rural communities.
“RF Buche has demonstrated that independent grocers play a central role in expanding food access in rural, remote and underserved communities,” said Greg Ferrara, NGA president and CEO. “His extensive efforts toward fighting food insecurity, as well as his advocacy for antitrust reform, exemplify his commitment to our industry and the essential role in plays in feeding our nation.”
The mission of the grocer’s ongoing campaign, Team Buche Cares, is to feed the hungry and provide assistance to those in the local community in times of a gap in benefits. “To me, that is truly the Spirit of America,” Buche said. “This honor belongs to the amazing team we have.”
Of course, every team needs an effective leader. “It’s truly heartwarming to come across a grocer like RF Buche, who displays an exceptional level of care and dedication towards his customers. His genuine concern and commitment to the patrons he serves is truly remarkable and makes a significant difference in his communities,” Ferrara adds.
Beyond his company, Buche has served on several chamber of commerce boards and committees in the communities that support his stores. He served as an original director of the Wagner Boys and Girls Club; serves on the South Dakota Retailer Association Board of Directors and was a past president; and is a past board member of the National Grocers Association.
G.F. Buche Co. owns and operates grocery, convenience, auto parts and hardware/lumber stores along with fast-food restaurants staffed by nearly 500 team members at 23 locations in 12 communities throughout South Dakota. Buche Foods grocery stores are located in Gregory, Mission, Oacoma, Pine Ridge, Sisseton and Wagner.
Gus Stop convenience stores – named after company founder Gus Buche – are located in Gregory, Lake Andes, Mission, Wagner, White River and Winner, plus a Buche’s Gus Stop located in Wanblee and a pay-at-the-pump location in Mission named Gus Stop Express. Pine Ridge is home to Buche Auto Parts and Buche Hardware stores; with Buche’s Hardware and Lumber stores in Martin and Winner (hardware stores are Ace-branded). The company also operates a Subway restaurant in Gregory and a Taco John’s in Mission.
Read more independent store news from The Shelby Report.