Just a mile from the South Carolina border sits Tryon IGA, which has been serving Tryon, North Carolina for 26 years. Owner Willard Teaster has been part of the grocery business for nearly six decades.
He started his grocery career with A&P in the produce department and went on to hold just about every managerial position the company offered, including produce manager, store manager, district manager and director of supermarkets.
His 13,000-square-foot store in Tryon was previously an A&P that he oversaw as a district manager. Tryon IGA is “just big enough” for the community, according to Teaster. A&P left the store open long enough for him to finalize its purchase.
“We actually shut it down for about four hours to take inventory and opened it back up as an IGA,” said Teaster, adding that going with IGA was an easy choice.
“They’ve got a well-recognized private label brand … I’ve got a lot of people in this area from the North who knew the IGA products, and they knew the quality of the product,” he explained.
Neighboring towns such as Columbus, North Carolina, and Landrum, South Carolina, have grocery store options, but Teaster doesn’t find it difficult to compete. “Our business doesn’t fluctuate that much … it stays consistent year around.”
He attributed that consistency to the freedom of being an independent grocer.
“One thing I like about an IGA is that you … blend into the community that you’re in. And we’re able to do things locally that a lot of chain stores can’t do … and we can make decisions right here that can affect us that help within the community.”
Customers regularly request specific items, with Teaster happy to oblige as many as possible. “I have customers tell me all the time that we have stuff that other stores don’t carry. Again, that’s the good thing about an IGA. If customers ask for something, we try to get it for them … that’s how we’ve been able to grow our business.”
Tryon IGA has partnerships with multiple local producers and farms to feature their products on its shelves.
“We buy a lot of peaches,” Teaster said. “We buy apples from Hendersonville, North Carolina … I’ve got a local farmer that I’ve been buying from for about 10-15 years. And we buy green beans. We buy canned meats and corn. And now people are really into the organic stuff and most of that stuff is organic. It came right out of the same dirt they’re standing on.”
Tryon is a tightly knit community. Teaster has the luxury of being able to trust his customers more than other retailers.
“I keep plants, I keep potting soil and all that kind of stuff outside all the time. I got ice machines outside. I don’t even lock them. I just don’t have that kind of problem. It’s a great community to be in,” he said.
As the holidays draw closer, Tryon IGA is making space outside for Christmas trees. Otherwise, the store carries a variety of locally-grown flowers and plants and locally-sourced fertilizer.
The grocer has supported the Thermal Outreach Food Bank in Columbus since the nonprofit’s inception. “When it first started, they were operating out of a carport and now it’s got a big, huge building,” Teaster said.
And he is always looking for opportunities to improve the store. When he bought it, he made a five-year plan to replace all the old A&P equipment. Every year brings a project that will improve the store in some way.
Five years ago, Teaster put in a deli. This year, it will be a new POS system. That project should begin before year’s end.
Read more market profiles from The Shelby Report.