An Independent Voice: The art of appreciation

We tend to focus on showing gratitude around the holidays, but we should recognize workplace excellence throughout the year.

By Jane Olszeski Tortola

We typically take time during the holidays to express our appreciation for our families, neighbors, co-workers and other important people in our lives. So this month, I reached out to a few independent owners and asked them to share their philosophies for making their stores great places to work—not just during the Christmas season, but throughout the year.  Here’s what they had to say.

Mark Skogen, president and CEO, Skogen’s Festival Foods, Onalaska, Wis. Operating 16 full-service supermarkets in the Badger state, Mark Skogen and his family employ more than 4,000 full- and part-time associates. In business for 65 years, the Skogens admire their team members for the way they treat each other like family. “Whether it’s celebrating a birthday, attending a wedding or showing support at the funeral of a lost loved one, we are always there for each other,” says Skogen.Outstanding employees are recognized in a number of ways. “One way is that when a guest writes to us to let us know about outstanding customer service they were provided, that letter is read in the department ‘huddle-up,’” he says.

Mark Batenic, CEO, IGA, Chicago
Batenic works diligently each and every day to champion the cause of independent retailers across the country. As a 42 year veteran of the industry, Batenic most respects the entrepreneurism and sense of community that is so much a part of IGA.

“You can see how much they want their associates to succeed, along with their desire to ‘win’ with the consumer,” says Batenic. “The best leaders and store owners with whom I work know how to listen. When you listen, you learn. Your employees know how to take care of business and we must listen to their ideas and suggestions, and be thankful for their willingness to share.”

Rudy Dory, “head cheerleader,” Rudy’s Markets, Bend, Ore.
What single-store owner Rudy Dory admires most about his team members is their attitude. “For the most part, they are always upbeat and wanting to do a great job,” says Dory.  “To show our appreciation for their efforts, we work with their weekly schedules as much as possible so they can have a full life outside the business.”

He says the company also recognizes its associates when they achieve recognition outside of work. “For example, a young lady who is a courtesy clerk at our store and is a senior in high school was recently presented with an award for her community service work. We posted the recognition, and others that are similar, on the bulletin board in the employee break room, plus we use the reader board outside of the store when appropriate to acknowledge the associate’s accomplishments to the community.”

Tammy Wilson, general manager, Jax Markets, Anaheim, Calif.
Second-generation grocer Tammy Wilson believes in leading by example. “I respect the tenure that has been earned by so many of our team members,” she says.

“At Jax Markets, we work hard to respect and value what is important to our employees and we recognize them for their individual efforts.” Presenting hard-working employees with Disneyland passes or tickets to baseball games or concerts is just one way that company officials show their appreciation.

“I feel it’s important to take the time when walking throughout the store to greet associates by using their names and taking a moment or two to ask how they’re doing and what we can do to make our stores a better place to work and shop,” says Wilson.

Gregory B. Calhoun, president and CEO, Calhoun Foods, Montgomery, Ala.
Quarterly bonuses, yearly trip awards and a variety of incentives for each five years spent working at his family-owned supermarket are just a few of the ways that Greg Calhoun shows his appreciation for the 210-plus employees at his three stores.

His philosophy in business and in life is admirable.  “It’s nice to be important,” says Calhoun, “But it’s even more important to be nice.”

Jane Olszeski Tortola, a regular columnist for Grocery Headquarters, devoted more than three decades of her career to working at a family-owned supermarket company founded by her late father. She is a graduate of The Ohio State University and is active in a number of food industry organizations. She can be reached at

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