Sean Conlon and his Giant Food team in Fredericksburg, Va., ensure they are ingrained in the fabric of their own local city.
One thing is for certain about the winners of this year’s FMI Store Manager Awards: The grocery industry runs deep in their veins. John Fox, who manages a store for Henderson Retail in Ireland, began his career as a sales floor advisor when he was still in high school, and Sean Conlon, who leads the Giant Food in Fredericksburg, Va., says he was born into retail.
“My father worked in the retail business for over 40 years,” Conlon says. “When I was in high school, most of the students were learning about algebra, calculus and economics, while my father had me dissecting profit and loss statements.”
Delton Schafer, store manager for the Albertsons Cos.’ in Seattle, started working as a courtesy clerk as an after-school job, and today is a 25-year industry veteran that has been assigned as an assistant manager or store manager at every Safeway inside the Seattle city limits. And while Joel White, store manager for King Soopers-City Market, initially vowed not to work in retail again when he moved to Colorado in 1999, he says destiny had other plans.
The five honorees, which were named during a live YouTube ceremony in May, share several other venerable traits, chief among them an unwavering focus on communication, inclusion, community and collaboration. The award winners spoke with Progressive Grocer about working hand-in-hand with their employees, attracting top talent, upcoming challenges and more.
Building Associate Relationships
When it comes to creating strong bonds with their employees, these store managers work hard to keep lines of communication open and also work directly with them as opposed to above them. Conlon believes daily department huddles and weekly department manager meetings help drive his strong and supportive team.
“During these huddles and meetings, I ensure inclusion and collaboration by creating an open forum for my staff," he explains. “We share ideas, merchandising plans, goals and any concerns that we may have about the business. This creates a team that takes ownership of their departments, and executes at the highest level.”
Schafer agrees that slowing down to have conversations with his associates can make teams more engaged and productive, and White prioritizes connecting with his employees on a personal level every day.
“When I start my day, I put aside business-related discussions and focus on getting to know them better,” White says. “They are the heart and soul of our business, and I recognize that they are much more than their job titles. They are fathers, mothers, outdoor enthusiasts, gamers, and integral members of our community.”
Henderson Retail’s Fox says he wouldn’t ask his team to do anything he wouldn’t do, or attempt to do, and believes this has earned him respect, loyalty and commitment from his team. He also brings them in on future tasks or projects since they are the ones on the front lines.
Wander Rezende, who leads the Roche Bros. Supermarkets store in Mashpee, Mass., also believes in working alongside his associates and mentoring the next generation of leaders. He has coached several assistant store managers during the store opening process and supported their individual paths to management.