What Support Does Grocery Outlet Offer?
Grocery Outlet’s coaching helps independent operators grow their profit margin
Grocery Outlet independent operators are focused on the performance of their businesses. They track sales in real time using state of the art reporting and technology so they know how well their business is doing. This allows independent operators to monitor and help the new employees that they’ve hired improve their own performance. Independent operators also reach out and help their peers by sharing best practices for improving store-level sales. Independent operators helping other independent operators is an important part of our culture.
“We want independent operators to succeed because it helps the brand,” says Steve Smith, an independent operator in San Diego. “We don’t police each other, but, because we all share use of a common brand, each independent operator expects every other independent operator to do whatever it takes to ensure a positive experience for their customers because this strengthens the good reputation of the Grocery Outlet brand name that we all share in together. In this respect, we hold each other accountable. We are each driven to do our best by a strong personal desire for independence and financial success. Conventional grocery stores may offer more products, but they can’t offer the same customer service.”
It takes a village to start a Grocery Outlet. All neighboring stores pitch in to make sure that new independent operators are ready to open. Transition Coaches are experienced operators with years of experience in the business. When you complete training and are getting started in your store, you are assigned an experienced Transition Coach to help you implement what you have learned in Aspiring Operators in Training (AOT) classes in order to set up great systems and processes.
“In addition to your peers, Grocery Outlet corporate is going to be your wingman,” says Tom McMahon, Vice President of Sales and Merchandising. “We’re going to be sure that you understand our processes and effectively put them to work for you. We will cocoon you in support throughout the training cycle. You’re not going to be by yourself. We may accept candidates into our AOT program with a broad range of experience, but, in the end, from this pool we only select as independent operators those who demonstrate a willingness to carry on our culture. This isn’t a flash in the pan; we’re going to carry our founder’s legacy for 100 years and then some.”
Our classroom training
Grocery Outlet offers classes that bring aspiring independent operators inside our unique network. Our unconventional ways are communicated to the next generation of independent operators as we invite new operators into our network.
In addition to on-the-job instruction as an employee of an existing independent operator, candidates enrolled in our AOT program train at Grocery Outlet University. Successful candidates receive a certification upon course completion. Our classes focus on immersion, merchandising, leadership and business ownership. At these schools aspiring independent operators learn everything from the culture and the vision of the Grocery Outlet brand to our order guide system, how to keep inventory moving, leadership and merchandising techniques that other independent operators have proven to be successful.
Independent operators must know how to keep inventory moving quickly, and part of that is not ordering too many products or quantities too large that don’t sell quickly. Aspiring independent operators also get schooled in vital business practices — such as learning how to prepare their own profit-and-loss statements.
“What I want candidates to know is that when they get on the path of discovery with us we will take as much time as needed to inform them about the opportunity,” says Tom. “Stick with it because it takes a while to understand it. Be interactive with what you need to know. We want to be sure that you are fully informed.” At the end of the AOT program, candidates are not obligated to become independent operators, but over 99% of our candidates who successfully complete the AOT program and are offered an Independent Operator Agreement do so because they understand our business model and the opportunities it offers them for financial independence.
Apprenticeship with experienced independent operators
Our experienced independent operators are a valuable resource to new independent operators and our aspiring operators-in-training. In some cases, we may have four generations of independent operators from the same family in one store each of whom successfully came through our AOT program at different times. A slew of independent operators have been associated with Grocery Outlet for a very long time.
What better trainers could we have than experienced independent operators? Aspiring operators in training receive on-the-job training as an employee of an existing independent operator (the “Training Store Operator”) who is willing to teach the skills they learned and now rely on to drive their own financial success. Our buyers are the best in the world at procuring products at big discounts, but the independent operators are the experts at selling the merchandise and growing the business. This is one of the few remaining retail environments where a truly independent merchandiser can thrive.
An apprenticeship at Grocery Outlet is not merely a learning process, but knowledge handed down from generations of independent operators. As employees of an existing independent operator, aspiring operators in training get to experience first-hand what running a Grocery Outlet and managing employees really takes. Aspiring operators-in-training stay in training for an average of 6 to 9 months, depending on their prior experience. Their trainers help us decide if and when an aspiring candidate is ready to independently operate a store. Grocery Outlet collaborates with the Training Store Operators to ensure that each trainee’s needs are met during their training period. The path to becoming an independent operator is highly selective: we do not guaranty aspiring operators-in-training that they will be offered a license to operate a Grocery Outlet Bargain Market when they complete training. However, because we are so highly selective in the recruitment process, we have a high retention rate among our aspiring operators-in-training candidates and most complete the program successfully and ultimately go on to operate a Grocery Outlet Bargain Market.
We supplement on-the-job training with classes at our Grocery Outlet headquarters and through online tutorials so that candidates gain a thorough appreciation for an independent operator’s responsibilities and opportunities. Aspiring operators-in-training learn from their network of peers and by attending Grocery Outlet University classes how to effectively present the WOWs to customers, how to build a tantalizing end cap and how to strategically navigate our order guide, which is updated daily. During this process they have their chance to develop and demonstrate the “soft” skills essential to performing successfully as an independent operator: an ability to motivate employees to maximize results; adaptability and resourcefulness when unexpected circumstances present themselves; effective communication skills in interacting with customers and representing the Grocery Outlet brand in their community; strong organizational skills to optimize available resources; the ability to delegate tasks appropriately; and a “do whatever it takes” mindset.
If aspiring operators-in-training like what they see, perform successfully and meet our minimum credentials, they apply with us for a license to operate a Grocery Outlet Bargain Market and submit their business plan to us. If we approve their application, we will then match the candidate with the store opportunity that’s available, or becomes available, that is the best fit. In most cases, we only award a license to operate a Grocery Outlet Bargain Market when a store becomes available. We do not guarantee that the store that we offer will be a new or existing store close to where they live: indeed many operators move their residence in order to accept the licensing opportunity that we offer them.
Licenses may be offered for the right to operate an existing Grocery Outlet store, a new store that we convert to the Grocery Outlet brand model that may or may not have previously been operated as a supermarket under a different brand, or a ground-up newly constructed building. Licensing opportunities may exist in urban, suburban and rural communities throughout our five western states (CA, OR, WA, ID, NV) and Pennsylvania. Our goal is to match successful AOT candidates with the best licensing opportunity that we have to offer, suitable for their particular background and experience. In some cases, a successful AOT candidate may have to wait a few additional months for the right fit to come along. During this time, AOT candidates remain in the training program and continue to hone their skills in preparation to run a store when they successfully apply and are awarded a store.