From the Publisher: Racking up miles

Save Mart executives travel to each store and headquarters unit during the holidays, which says a great deal about their commitment to employees and customers.

Simply doing the math can give one a headache. About 235 stops in less than six weeks, visiting stores and headquarters units scattered throughout two states and making a point to stop for upwards of an hour at each visit to talk with as many employees as possible. Also, handing out  “President Awards” at every stop along the way to recognize employees who perform above and beyond the norm.

Frankly, accomplishing this every November and December would be difficult for people with a lot of time on their hands. Bob Piccinini and Steve Junqueiro, the two top officials at Save Mart, along with several other executives who participate in these annual holiday store visits, do this despite having plenty on their plates back at the office. That includes running a chain that has mushroomed from a relatively small player in northern California to a major player in the region.

Still they do it.

The reason has as much to do with a company tradition that started years ago when there were just a handful of units as it does with these officials’ deep desire to show all company employees that no matter how big Save Mart gets they still intend to run it as the small, family-owned business Piccinini’s family started 60 years ago. So for those six weeks, these executives use cars and planes, and probably would jump aboard a train if it helped, to make sure they visit every one of their stores.

That level of commitment makes it easy for Grocery Headquarters to honor Save Mart as our 2012 Independent Retailer of the Year.

Yet, there is more to this chain that just an annual tour of stores. Save Mart has succeeded in what many say is a terrible economic climate in California by growing at a slow, calculated pace. In an interview in this issue, Piccinini is clear that growth is not first and foremost on his mind. He is focused on the long-term survival of the company, and that means he is going to pick and choose the right times for expansion, whether through external means such as purchasing stores from Lucky Stores as he did a few years back, or by opening new stores in existing markets. Or, perhaps, no growth at all.

The key, it seems, is to make sure that there is no Achilles’ heel in the company’s business plan. Operating five different retail formats, Save Mart officials want to make sure that existing stores meet the needs of existing consumers in the marketplace. And, if you know anything about California, that means dealing with various types of income brackets and dozens of types of consumer heritages to ensure that each store has the right mix of products and price-points to maximize sales.

Save Mart seems to be succeeding and the Modesto, Calif.-based chain should serve as a model for other independents seeking to find a niche in a crowded marketplace. But as you follow the exploits of this chain, do not be fooled by the high number of stores it runs.

This is still a family-owned operation that values its employees, customers and vendors. Somehow, it just got big while still staying small.

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