Grocery Offers Careers for Problem-Solvers
“People will crab about Millennials. I personally think they’re amazing.”
So says Randy Edeker, chairman, president and CEO of Hy-Vee Inc., talking with me during a recent visit to one of the Iowa-based retailer’s newest stores in its growing Twin Cities market.
“I wish I was that smart when I was that age,” Edeker (pictured) told me. “I wish I would have asked the questions that they ask. Back in the day, I would run through a wall if somebody told me to do it. Today, they’ll ask you why and want to understand it.”
We were talking about what the industry needs to do to change the perception of grocery retailing as a career of choice for younger generations.
“I don’t think you really address it as an industry. I think you address it as a company,” Edeker said, describing a career day that Hy-Vee hosted for 1,500 college-age young adults who were most interested to learn about the company’s philanthropic and wellness outreach initiatives.
“They want to make a difference in life, have a purpose. For us to be an industry that is strong and a place that people want to go, we have to give them the opportunity to feel like they're making a difference,” he said. “It’s amazing to me: The week following [the event], I got so many emails from young people who wanted to talk to me about their future. They expect you to be personally involved with helping them. That’s what I think we’re going to have to do as an industry, to really embrace them. Then I think they’ll come in and they’ll help you build.”
It’s this focus on the future that drove our decision to make Hy-Vee PG’s 2017 Retailer of the Year. Hy-Vee’s achievements with innovative store formats and merchandising concepts, fresh prepared foods, customized meal solutions, wellness initiatives, business diversification, and corporate citizenry have positioned the company well to run headlong into the sea changes the industry is facing.
I asked Donna Tweeten, Hy-Vee’s EVP, chief marketing officer and chief customer officer, what advice she’d offer to aspiring grocery industry leaders.
“I would say don't think of yourself as a grocery retailer, think of yourself like an innovative startup,” Tweeten said. “Just have a much broader view of what your career entails and what your industry entails. Think of yourself as an entrepreneur."
Hy-Vee understands that retailing is not just about selling stuff anymore -- it’s about selling solutions, ideas and ideals.
“If you love to help people solve problems, that’s what I think our whole industry is,” EVP/COO Jay Marshall told me. “It’s about making lives easier. [Consumers] don’t know what they want, and you help them find what they want. They don’t know how to cook; you help them learn how to cook. So if you’re a problem solver, this would be a great industry for you. This would be a place to come and stay a long time, because the grocery industry will change. We’ll always be in the food business, but we’ll sell in different ways over the next 50 years, 100 years. We’ll sell food more differently than we ever did.”