The Big Cheese of Service

Two weeks ago I found myself standing in the cheese section of the Mariano’s Fresh Food Market in Arlington Heights, Ill. We were in Chicagoland to meet with Bob Mariano, the CEO of Roundy’s, which operates five grocery retail banners including Mariano’s, and the rest of the company’s executive team. Roundy’s is Grocery Headquarters’ 2013 Independent Retailer of the Year — check it out in the upcoming February issue.

It was before the interview, during our first visit to the supermarket that I found myself staring into a corner of dairy heaven. The cheese department is the first place I head when I visit a new grocery store. It serves as a benchmark to give me insight into the attention a store gives its product assortment.

My jaw must have been on the ground as I stared at the wide selection of Wisconsin cheeses sitting on the shelf. Roundy’s is based in Milwaukee and has a long-time relationship with the local cheesemakers of America’s Dairyland. The two smiling ladies at the counter seemed to get a kick out of my astonishment.

“Can we help you with something?” one asked with a smirk.

“I love cheese. You have all my favorites. I was wondering if you had something specific though… Sartori has a Limited Edition Extra-Aged Goat Cheese. Do you have it?”

“I’m sorry; I know what you are talking about but we don’t stock it,” the smirking assistant replied.

“But I can  get it for you,” said the other.

“Oh, no thank you,” I replied reluctantly. “I am only in town for another day. I won’t be back to pick it up.”

“Oh, that is a shame. But I can find out where else it is available. Where are you from? New York? I’ll text my friend at Sartori and ask her. No big deal.”

She had her phone out and ready to go when I insisted it was ok, and I would be able to find it back home. Both women apologized, offered me some samples and smiled only the way a cheese-lover surrounded by Wisconsin’s finest does.

I walked away a little disappointed but happy to have a chunk of Honey Goat Cheese from the sample tray in my mouth.

The next day we conducted our interview for the magazine. It was clear they were proud of Mariano’s, the newest banner, and the impact its had on the communities, but more evidently, they were proud of their staff and the service they offered. They shared stories about the effort their employees put into making each shopper’s experience the best it could be, described the in-depth hiring process and continuous hands-on training.

I smiled listening to their stories. I had experience it first hand in my search for goat cheese. They knew what they were doing with their employees.

They really know what they are doing across the board. Mariano’s has it all. The wide range of product assortment is affordable, the fresh ready-to-eat options are unique and plentiful and the store environment is welcoming. But it is the customer service that is the icing on the delicious fresh-baked cupcake.

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