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Giant Eagle Inc. Sews the Threads of Success


Editors' Note: The following is an excerpt of PG's profile feature on its 2016 Retailer of the Year, Giant Eagle Inc, the full story of which appears in the October 2016 issue.

Like a carefully crafted patchwork quilt whose individual pieces — each of which is original, with a beauty of its own — have been sewn together over time, stitched intricately by hand and designed to stand the test of time, the splendid tapestry created by Giant Eagle Inc. over the past 85 years is a work of art. Indeed, the careful selection of the various fabrics, and the unique placement of each, embodies the Pittsburgh-based retailer’s admirable ability to weave its various elements into a uniquely distinctive, highly durable heirloom to be passed on for future generations to nurture, preserve and further enhance.

As one of the 40 largest privately held companies in the United States, standing at No. 16 on Progressive Grocer’s Super 50 ranking of the nation’s leading food retailers, Giant Eagle exhibits many hallmarks of a company setting the pace for its peers, including continued strategic expansion; multiformat store designs tailored to specific community needs; an expanding focus on culinary, wellness and convenience-oriented offerings; demonstrated investments in technology, infrastructure and logistics; an ongoing commitment to providing quality goods to consumers hungry for value; and extraordinary success and leadership not only in the industry, but also in local communities.

For these important reasons, and numerous others, PG is proud to recognize the extended Giant Eagle family — including its pioneering corporate visionaries, dedicated corporate support teams and thousands of outstanding store associates — as its 2016 Retailer of the Year, an honor bestowed annually on one select retailer that truly stands apart in the highly competitive food industry.

While officials from the regional food, fuel and pharmacy retailer are fiercely proud of its vibrant heritage and superior track record, they’re equally enthusiastic about perpetuating their diverse and dynamic organization by adhering to the foundational threads woven into Giant Eagle’s DNA, which, as CEO Laura Karet explains, are its strong values, innovation and constant drive to reinvent itself for shoppers in a changing marketplace.

“We have a unique blend of an incredibly strong value system that came from our founders that I think is one of the key reasons we’ve been able to stick together so long,” she says. “It’s a pretty unique thing that five families have stuck together for four generations, combined with a very strong entrepreneurial drive to constantly better ourselves. It’s like we have a house that was built on these values, but we keep remodeling it. We can do that because the foundation is so good.”

Giant Eagle’s value system rests upon four pillars — four key constituencies in which the company’s leadership firmly believes: team members, or associates; customers; communities; and shareholders.

The order is deliberate, Karet explains: “We put our shareholders last purposely. We strongly believe that if you do the right things for the first three, good things happen for them. It’s allowed us to really think long-term about the business and doing the right things for the right reasons. We want to be profitable like everyone else, and we hold ourselves accountable to public company standards, but we think for the long run, not quarter to quarter.”

Get Up and Go

Integral to Giant Eagle’s continued success in the years ahead, according to Karet, is the company’s development over the recent past as a multiformat retailer.

“I’d like to say that we had agreed on a plan and knew that the world was going to change the way that it did,” she says, in a nod to Giant Eagle’s varied retail banners. “What actually happened was we ‘entrepreneured’ our way into a bunch of different formats. It ended up that the world had changed in such a way that being a multiformat retailer has been a huge advantage to us. In the last two years, we’ve really focused on a couple of the formats that we think have huge growth potential.”

The first of these is GetGo, Giant Eagle’s convenience format, which, beyond the ability to capture grab-and-go business as well as fuel sales, is emerging as an innovative cog in the retailer’s click-and-collect grocery machine.

GetGo began as an outgrowth of Giant Eagle’s pioneering and highly successful Fuelperks loyalty program. “It’s an incredibly strong program, and we found our way into convenience stores because we needed a redemption system,” Karet explains. “We still thought about ourselves as a supermarket retailer. But we knew that gas was an important way to benefit the ‘big box,’” and with it, the potential to build a new business platform, for two reasons: “One, gasoline is something you need all the time,” and two, “because of the changes in the way people eat as a result of changing lifestyles.”

Positioning GetGo as a place where busy families and other folks on the run can get all of the things they need and feel good about it “is a really big idea,” Karet says. “What we’ve been doing with GetGo is figuring out how to position it to grow and leverage the opportunity of a small format to deliver food in a different way to meet people’s changing lifestyles.”

As such, Giant Eagle is looking to boost the image of convenience store foods, much like fellow Pennsylvania-based c-store chains Wawa and Sheetz have done. “We consider ourselves lucky to compete against Sheetz in some ways,” Karet says, “because they have redefined what convenience store food is.”

From a strategic standpoint, she continues, “We see the [grocery/c-store] interplay as being a key differentiator and competitive advantage. The supermarket business and the convenience store business have a lot of overlap, but they also are different businesses. We’re trying to manage them in such a way that we can tap specific expertise that we need, when it makes sense from an industry perspective.”

To read the entire PG Retailer of the Year profile, click here.

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