Local supermarket named Retailer of the Year
The local supermarket will be honored at the 2008 IGA USA Rally held Nov. 6-8 in Merrillville, Ind., and the store has a shot at being named International Retailer of the Year.
Stewart said IGA is an advertising cooperative that binds about 4,200 independent grocers together to help develop promotional activities and enhance purchasing abilities. The stores are not franchises. He characterized IGA as “a group of independent retailers who have joined forces.”
The stores are serviced by about 60 grocery distribution centers, and each of those distribution centers may nominate a store they serve as Retailer of the Year.
Stewart said the nomination materials for his store filled a three-inch thick three-ring binder and he was “delighted” when the store was selected as one for five finalists for the Retailer of the Year award.
Stewart said Mark Batenic, chairman, president and chief executive officer of IGA, and Doug Fritsch, IGA’s senior vice president, visited the five finalists.
On Wednesday, Aug. 28, Stewart said Lassen County Supervisor Jim Chapman told him two guys with suits and clipboards were wandering around the store.
“Sure enough, it was them,” Stewart said.
The two executives spent about two hours in the store and talked with employees. Earlier in the day when they were having breakfast at a local restaurant, Batenic and Fritsch asked residents about the local grocery store.
“Our game was out on the table,” Stewart said. “There was nothing left for us to do. On Friday I got a call from Doug Fritsch, and he said, ‘Congratulations, you’re the Retailer of the Year.’ They liked what they saw. It’s nice to be recognized by your peers in your industry.”
Stewart said the store opened in 1968 as part of the Eagle Thrifty chain. About a year later, Raleys bought out that chain. Around 1979, the store because a Shop and Save. Stewart purchased the store in 1993.
“We’ve been an IGA store for nine years, and we haven’t looked back,” Stewart said. “This has been Susanville Supermarket longer than any other ownership. I can tell you, we love it here.”
When considering Susanville Supermarket’s nomination, reviewers considered a number of categories including IGA brand support; merchandizing, leadership and innovation; technological advances; participation in advertising group events; support of vendors that support IGA; employee development; and hometown and community development.
“We take the slogan Hometown Proud very seriously,” Stewart said.
He noted the store’s support of major community projects such as the Susanville Symphony, the Susanville Centennial Mural on the side of the store, the Lassen Career Network, the Rails to Trails Festival, the annual Fishing Derby, the annual Fireman’s Ball, Susanville Eskualdunak Basque Club’s annual Stew Feed, Little League, youth soccer, youth basketball, Third Grade History Day and the Children’s Fair.
Store employees have served in leadership positions in Rotary, Kiwanis, the Susanville Planning Commission, the Lassen County Planning Commission, the Lassen County Local Agency Formation Commission, the Lassen County Fair Board and the Susanville Economic Development Committee.
“When I looked at this, I sat back and thought, ‘We really are part of the community. We really are involved. We’re not just some faceless entity that comes in here to sell goods and have the funds transferred electronically somewhere else and gone. We give as much of our time as we do our money.’ I don’t want to say other retailers don’t do that, too, because they do. We feel fortunate to live in a very caring community, and I feel very fortunate to have experienced that. That’s the essence of being involved in the community — trying to nurture and help the community develop.”
Customers might notice some of the improvements at the store, such as the new freezers installed last year or the remodel of the deli cases this year. But Stewart said customers might not notice other changes such as replacing satellite link to a DSL line for credit and debit card purchases.
Another key factor in the store’s success, Stewart said, is IGA’s extensive training program for employees.
Susanville Supermarket employees have taken more Internet training classes than any other store in the country — even more than the top international store.
This year Susanville Supermarket employees took 381 training courses. Employees at the nation’s second-ranked store took 171 courses. Employees at the top international store took 251 courses.
Stewart said all that training translates into better customer service.
“In the time we’ve been here, we’ve seen families grow,” Stewart said. “We’ve seen children come into the world. We’ve seen kids graduate. We’ve seen people get married. We’ve seen people lose their spouses. We’ve seen our own people pass on. You know, life has happened since we’ve been here, and this is an incredibly special place if you can stand back and look at what we have here in this community.”
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