Progressive Grocer Independent

FEB 2016

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February 2016 | Defining the Independent Market | 17 2016 I N D E P E N D E N T S OUTSTANDING INTERNATIONAL MARKET R uben's Grocery, in McAllen, Texas, serves a dual purpose: one, to be the neighborhood grocery store for the immediate area, and two, to meet the needs of customers from a variety of nations. At any given time, products from more than 50 countries can be found on the shelves of the store, according to owner Ruben Cavazos. Te store was never intended to be an inter- national market when it opened in 1971, but as the chains began moving into town, the Cavazos family knew it would have to diversify to survive. It started with products from Puerto Rico and Jamaica, and has grown to include all of the Americas, all of western Europe, about 30 percent of eastern Europe and about 20 percent of Eurasia. Cavazos adds that he has access to additional products from almost every other country in the world, except for Cuba and North Korea. Te international products sit side by side with traditional American brands. Customers can come from three blocks away, or they may have driven an hour to get to the store. "It's really kind of eclectic and fun to watch these two worlds live in one place," Cavazos says. To keep the store supplied, Cavazos relies on more than 700 vendors to import the foreign products. "It's a labor of love," he notes, "and it's a logistical nightmare." Te staf con- stantly monitors the inventory, and when an item runs out, it's entered on an Excel spreadsheet. When there are enough items from the same vendor, an order is placed. While the store may stock almost anything a customer could want, the large product assortment also means that some products remain out of stock until an order can be placed. Customers wanting out-of-stock items text or email their requests to the store, and then, when the product comes back in, the store alerts the customers that they can now pick up the items. "It's difcult," Cavazos admits. "But at the same time, it's a lot of fun, and it makes us stand out, because no other business in the area is willing to do all the work. We have no competition." Ruben's Grocery, McAllen, Texas T he mission statement of Fresh Farms International Market, with four locations in the Chicagoland area, is to provide "the most worthwhile shopping experi- ence in the marketplace by identifying our customer's prefer- ences and efciently meeting their needs." To do this, co-owner Dean Svigos spends 70 to 80 hours a week on the foor. "I know what customers want, because my customers tell me," Svigos says. Each of the four stores carries a product line uniquely suited to its location. Te store in Chicago is largely Indian and Paki- stani; the Wheeling, Ill., store opened with a largely Mexican product selection, but has changed to completely eastern European; and a store in Niles, Ill., is Balkan and Asian. Te latest store, which opened this past summer in Niles — the grocer now has two locations in the town — is still fnding its product mix; Svigos brings in as many products to hit as many ethnic groups as possible, and then pulls prod- ucts that don't sell to replace them with something else. He has learned that just because a certain demographic lives in the area, that doesn't mean that culture's traditional foods will sell best in the store. "Tey may not be from that area, but they have a taste for that area," Svigos says. "Who am I to argue with them?" He simply brings in the products that customers want. In addition to the unique product lines, each of the stores has a completely diferent look and merchandising scheme. "If customers like the Wheeling store, then they have to shop the Wheeling store," Svigos says. "It almost becomes a problem because people come in and they want all the same products in the stores," he adds. "You have to explain to them that each store is unique for the clientele of the area." However, the store in Wheeling and the two in Niles all have extensive fresh prepared foods departments (Te store in Chicago is too small). Fresh Farms opened in 1979 as primar- ily a produce market, but gradually added other fresh depart- ments. As soon as the Svigos family learned one department, they would add another. To keep costs down and quality up, Svigos sources products directly from the manufacturers, whenever possible. "I try to fnd products that are better and work on a fair margin," he adds. "Te customer gets a good product that is worth buying, and I'm still making a little proft." Fresh Farms International Market, Chicago

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