Grocery Outlet encourages independent operators to work together

Posted Dec 6th, 2016

Starting a grocery store with Grocery Outlet fosters sense of community

When Fereshta Popal first met Elizabeth Tiapon, she was just starting a grocery store in California, and Tiapon took her under her wing as an Aspiring Operator in Training (AOT).

Fershta Popal on the right; Elizabeth Tiapon on right
Fereshta Popal (left), independent operator of Grocery Outlet’s East Hayward, CA, store, enjoys a close working relationship with her trainer Elizabeth Tiapon (right), independent operator at the San Leandro, CA, location.

Tiapon, a veteran of grocery retail and now an independent operator for Grocery Outlet’s San Leandro, CA, location, knew a good egg when she saw one. She hired Popal and trained her for a little over a year, teaching her everything she knew.

When it came time for Popal to bid for her own store, she went for the East Hayward, CA, location. As luck would have it, the two stores are just nine miles apart and Popal and Tiapon have remained close, working together on many aspects of the business together and pooling resources when they can.

The spirit of cooperation and friendship between Popal and Tiapon is one that Grocery Outlet actively works to promote—Grocery Outlet and its independent operators are part of one extended family. Not only does Grocery Outlet encourage family members to work together, they foster a sense of community through the “pay-it-forward” AOT program that independent operators participate in and by making it easy for stores that are situated close to each other to split costs and share opportunities.

Diversity in product merchandise

This kind of “we’re all in it together” approach is unusual in the competitive world of grocery retail. Conventional retailers bank on one standard formula that applies across the board. This means one store is pretty much the same as the next in a chain because the product selection and merchandising are all uniform. Managers at conventional grocery stores are essentially executing the same visual merchandising according to directions from those higher up the corporate ladder.

Grocery Outlet store aisle
Grocery Outlet independent operators have the flexibility to stock the inventory that works best for their stores, ordering from a rotating catalog of deeply discounted products.

At Grocery Outlet, experienced independent operators exercise their own judgment about merchandise, choosing from Grocery Outlet’s catalog of deeply discounted products to stock inventory on a consignment basis—products they know will work best for their store demographic. They pay a percentage of sales to Grocery Outlet and enjoy unlimited earning potential. Operators use their creativity to manage practically every aspect of their stores—from staffing and merchandising to community outreach and more. This is also why no two Grocery Outlet stores are exactly alike.

“We have customers who will shop five different Grocery Outlet stores because you never know what you will find,” Tiapon says. “Customers do look around, because each of our Grocery Outlet stores is a little different. Sure, we all have the basics, but there’s a thousand other items that we all have that are different because of how they are available to us.”

Tiapon does share customers with Popal, who in turn also shares customers with another Grocery Outlet location in Hayward.

How independent operators work together

Tiapon and Popal partner with each other in many ways, including splitting freight on weekly truckloads of groceries. “On every Friday, we both get half a truck. I order half, she orders half, then the truck drops it off at both our stores,” Tiapon says, adding that saving on shipping costs sweetens the deal that much further.

The two are also in constant touch, so if one runs out of an item, they can check in and see if the other store has it. “For instance, if I ran out of bags this week and needed to borrow or transfer stuff, I could easily call or text her and say, ‘Hey Fereshta, can I borrow a couple of cases of bags until tomorrow?’ Being at a friendly level, we’re able to do that,” Tiapon says.

Tiapon and Popal even have a few employees who work at both stores—one of Tiapon’s full-time employees, for example, works at the East Hayward location for a few extra hours.

Pete and Theresa Novak on left; Todd Pruitt on right
Pete and Terresa Novak, independent operators of Grocery Outlet’s Atascadero, CA, store, work closely with Todd Pruitt (right), who is independent operator of the Paso Robles, CA, location.

Todd Pruitt, independent operator at Grocery Outlet’s Paso Robles, CA, location, and Pete and Terresa Novak at Atascadero, CA, might not have as close a relationship as Popal and Tiapon, but they still work together a lot, coordinating on advertising materials and marketing strategies. The two stores are just a few miles apart, and Pruitt trained with the Novaks before becoming an independent operator. Pruitt enjoys working with the Novaksthe two stores also share trucks and split freight.

“As Grocery Outlet operators, we are always helping other operators whether they’re in our area or not,” says Pete Novak.

The ability to exercise creativity in daily decisions, the unlimited earnings potential and the teamwork and cooperation that Grocery Outlet is based on are all prized assets that independent operators cherish.

“Every day when I get up, I want to come to work. After decades in the industry, that’s huge for me,” Tiapon says.

Learn more about Grocery Outlet

If you’re interested in starting a grocery store and would like more in-depth details about the Grocery Outlet independent operator opportunity, download our free information report. You can also learn more by visiting our research pages.

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