A Day in the Life of an Independent Operator
How our independent operators manage their days and sell bargain products
Independent operators have access to a constantly changing, evolving array of competitive products purchased by our seasoned buyers. Using their selling experience, independent operators know how to merchandise and move product and cater to the specific needs of their market. Every day presents different challenges; plus the satisfaction of achieving daily goals, serving customers by helping them save money, teaching staffers the value of hard work and sales and playing a big role in the surrounding community.
Steve Smith, an independent operator in Grass Valley, CA, begins his mornings by checking for projects to be completed. He walks the produce section first because the way customers see it creates their impression about the whole store.
“If it looks great, then the rest of the store is perceived to look great,” Steve says.
After that first walk-through, Steve begins ordering inventory after discussions with managers and staff. He also makes sure the staff has 100 percent of the tools they need to complete their daily tasks. Throughout the rest of the day, Steve spends time with customers, asking them about their store experience and what items they need.
Eric Liittschwager, an independent operator in San Francisco, spends some of his day watching sales velocity and adjusting prices. Sometimes he’ll lower a price and sacrifice some of his margin to get products out the door, which allows him to stock new items that will sell more quickly.
It’s more than simply being a manager
As Eric and Steve have known for a while now, operating a Grocery Outlet is about more than merely being a manager: it is about being in business for themselves, but not by themselves. Independent operators and Grocery Outlet enjoy a symbiotic relationship: Grocery Outlet finds incredible bargain opportunities for us and depends on us to sell and move inventory. Together, we share the rewards and risk.
“We have about $200,000 tied up in our stores,” Eric says. “We spend hours every day at our stores. If you’re just a manager, you can clock out and go home. As a Grocery Outlet independent operator, though, if your forklift breaks down you have to write the check to fix it.”
For Steve, being an independent operator is not a job; it’s a business enterprise, and, like any business owner, Steve does whatever it takes to make his enterprise as profitable as it can possibly be.
“We close one day out of the year, and that’s when the refrigeration equipment is down,” Steve says. “As an independent business operator, I am on 24/7 — you’ll get that call in the middle of the night that your compressors are down. You have to be very engaged in your store, no matter how good your staff is.”
Steve used to be even more hands-on when he was operating a low-volume store; he spent plenty of time unloading trucks. Now, though, his store experiences higher volumes, which frees up Steve’s time to focus on more strategic initiatives to drive his store’s sales to even higher levels.
“Still, though, an independent operator has to be prepared to roll up their sleeves and jump in,” Steve says.
Hiring and building a team
An independent operator controls their own destiny and depends on the hard work of employees whom they train to perform essential roles on the independent operator’s team. Grocery Outlet independent operators are solely responsible for hiring, training and supervising the performance of their employees and, because employees are the lifeblood of every store, operators are keenly aware that the key to their own financial success is to cultivate the loyalty of a dedicated team of talented employees. Once, when Eric and his wife planned a date night, his staff had other plans: knowing how vital the employees were to his own financial well-being, when the employees planned a social event and invited the boss, Eric knew the importance of showing up.
“My employees planned a bowling night all on their own,” says Eric. “Then they asked me if I was coming. I had to say, ‘Of course I’m coming!’ So I called the wife and told her to cancel our plans. We couldn’t not go. When they’re getting together to do something, we have to support it.”