As one of the nation's most respected regional family-owned supermarket retailers, Brookshire Grocery Co. earns the nod as PG's Outstanding Independent Regional Retailer of the Year.
In a business where people are often trumpeted as being its greatest asset, there is but a handful of distinct leaders that stand ahead of the pack and personify that mantra in word and deed.
Without question, Progressive Grocer's 2011 Outstanding Independent Regional Retailer, Tyler, Texas-based Brookshire Grocery Co. (BGC) is one of them.
Having operated on the philosophy of "people first, profits will follow," Brook-shire's canon still stands today, and is reflected in an enduring tradition to help its customers, and the communities it serves, flourish with far more than just groceries alone.
BGC dates back to 1928, when Wood T. Brookshire and his five brothers opened a small store in downtown Tyler, which later grew to several more locations in east Texas until the partnership dissolved in 1939. At that time, Wood became sole owner of three stores that serve as the cornerstone of the company today. Like so many of his industry brethren — including Rick Rayford, BGC's current president and CEO — the company's founding father described the grocery business as his "calling" — a way for him to serve others by providing fair-priced, high-quality products and a partner-style work environment for employees.
"Providing food to people is indeed a high calling," explains Rayford, who marvels at "how our entire industry does it in such a safe manner. We are very fortunate to have the quality of people working within this incredible industry, who care so deeply about safely providing food to consumers."
Rayford's industry pride is rivaled only by his high esteem for Brookshire's 12,000 partners throughout its organization, which comprises more than 150 supermarkets in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas that operate under four distinct banners: Brook-shire's Food Stores, Super 1 Foods Stores, Olé Foods and ALPS (Always Low Price Store), as well as three distribution facilities in Tyler and one in Monroe, La.
Commenting on BGC's admirable history and established reputation as one of the nation's most respected regional family-owned supermarket organizations, Rayford takes great pride in its "great facilities, great technology, high-quality products and strong service levels. But what really set us apart is our people, which are unquestionably our greatest asset.Ý
BGC at a Glance
119 Brookshire's Food & Pharmacy stores (Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas)
30 Super 1 Foods stores (Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas)
1 Olé Foods store (Corsicana, Texas)
1 ALPS store (Nashville, Ark.)
3 Express Lane c-stores (Celina, Corsicana and Seven Points, Texas)
1 Zippy B convenience store (Natchitoches, La.)
Total number of cities in which stores operate: 118 (84 in Texas, 24 in La. and 10 in Ark.)
Average store size: 40,500 square feet
Companywide retailing space: 6,107,801 square feet
Total number of pharmacies: 112
Total number of fuel centers: 79
Partners employed by BGC: 12,500
Tyler distribution center complex size: 1,132,263 square feet
Monroe (La.) distribution center complex size: 463,000 square feet
SouthWest Foods complex size: 491,000 square feet
Manufacturing facilities: bakery, dairy, ice cream, yogurt, fresh-cut, ice and water/drink plants all in or near Tyler, Texas
Company fleet: 71 tractors and 307 trailers
Community service: donates portion of profits to 800 charitable organizations annually and maintains the "Community Connections" employee volunteer program
The company's 82-year history speaks volumes about what Rayford says he enjoys most about his leadership duties: its family ownership. "That just gives our company a special feel. We are very proud that we continue to be a family-owned, privately held company. It's very exciting to have two members of the fourth generation of the Brookshire family involved in our business," something he says imparts a palpable genuineness throughout all levels of the organization.
"It's a family culture here — there's no question about it," Rayford declares, noting the company's core Christian beliefs that he says epitomize a central tenet of "treating people with dignity and respect. Through our employee stock ownership program, we share all profits with our people, so when our company does well, our people do well, too. I've been with this company nearly 40 years," he continues, "and every year, our partners have received a Christmas gift check. It's an investment that reminds our people about what they mean to us."
Rayford also cherishes the company's longstanding commitment to the communities that it serves, which he says is embedded in Brookshire's DNA and which remains an integral part of its overall strategy. "Our partners volunteer time and service to make their communities in over 100 towns where they live and work a better place," actions which he describes as "incredible and inspiring. It's very gratifying for us to be able to serve a customer base that believes very strongly in family values as well," he says.
In turn, BGC seeks to recognize and celebrate its partners' achievements in as many ways as possible, including via industry awards programs like PG's Top Women in Grocery, United Fresh Produce Association's retail produce managers and FMI's outstanding store managers' contests. At presstime, 21-year company veteran Sal Mora became BGC's 14th partner to drive 1 million miles without a preventable accident. "'What a tremendous accomplishment for Sal, not to mention the entire distribution team," says Rayford, noting how Mora's achievement embodies the company's commitment to safety and professionalism.
As the recipient of numerous corporate honors as well, including being named for the fifth consecutive time in 2010 as one of the Best Companies to Work for in Texas, BGC enjoys companywide success that "is directly attributable to the phenomenal people who work in our stores, manufacturing and distribution facilities, and corporate and regional offices every day," Rayford says.
Its longevity in holding its own in one of the most competitive pockets of the country is another reason to honor privately held BGC's accomplishments. "We are in-undated with competition," declares Rayford, foremost to which is Walmart, which "is heavily, aggressively entrenched in this part of the world — probably more than they need to be," he quips. "But we are also faced with excellent competition by the likes of Kroger, H-E-B and other strong competitors. By no means are we at loss with formidable competitors, but it certainly makes things exciting."
With some 445 locations and 16 distribution centers now dotting the landscape after opening its first Texas store in 1975, the world's largest retailer's omnipresence in the Lone Star State has raised the competitive stakes to unprecedented proportions. And though the pace of Walmart's Texas expansion has eased somewhat in recent years primarily because of market saturation, Rayford says approximately 97 percent of Brookshire's stores compete directly with Walmart Supercenters. "There's not many places left for them to go," he notes.
But its customers, Rayford affirms, provide Brookshire's with ample inspiration to focus on delivering exceptional prices, service, quality and community connections.
BGC's 'Texas Two-Step'
As alternative format operators continue to refine their food-related strategies, Rayford believes the company's multiple formats "complement each other very well and provide something for everyone." In addition, the shopper loyalty card employed in its eponymous Brookshire's stores, he says, "enables us to better respond to our shoppers' needs, by rewarding them in different but very meaningful ways."
Brookshire's Major Milestones
Wood T. Brookshire and his brothers open a 25-x100-foot store on the downtown square in Tyler, Texas
The "Brookshire Brothers" partnership dissolves, and Wood, along with wife Louise, become sole owners of three stores in Tyler under a new name, "Brookshire's Food Stores."
Business reaches a milestone with the opening of a new office building and warehouses for produce and grocery, lowering operating costs and improving efficiency and the ability to offer a wider variety of merchandise.
Made the leap into the state of Louisiana, which at the time marked the company's 17th store and which has since grown into 40 locations
Opened new corporate headquarters/ distribution center in Tyler, Texas, which collectively employs some 650 people today.
Now under the leadership of Wood's sons, Bruce and Woody Brookshire, the company launches the Super 1 Foods banner, offering greater savings to customers with a warehouse format store.
Three years into the transition to a new enterprise resource planning system from SAP, the company converts to the category management business model to better position itself for changes and trends in the food industry.
The company's price-impact Super One stores, meanwhile, offer "exceptional values for our customers," Rayford explains, via treasure hunt buys that offer value and quality on key necessities. "It's a one-two punch that I think works really well for our company."
In addition to striving for legendary service, including carrying groceries to customers' cars, Brookshire's has also been on the leading edge of building closer connections with shoppers in the health-and-wellness domain with a variety of high-visibility educational outreach programs and tactics, including being an early adopter of NuVal, which Rayford describes as "a simple system that helps educate people to make better choices."
In addition, BGC's 112 pharmacies are playing an increasingly important role in helping build bonds with its customers. "The education that our staff pharmacists provide is just enormous," Rayford says, citing "the huge impact they have on the health and well-being of our customers. It's very rewarding to be a part of people's lives, which gives us a great sense of satisfaction. And our in-store pharmacies get that chance every single day."
Looking ahead, Rayford says Brookshire's will remain laser-focused on continuous improvement in all areas of the company — "not just retail operations, but every single function" — which he says presents new opportunities around every bend.
"It's just got to get better every day, in everything we do," he asserts, "from choosing real estate sites, to hiring the right people, to being deeply Involved in the communities, to choosing the right technology to drive our business, to having the best supply chain that we can have," the last of which "is so important as we strive to reduce costs to provide the best value for our customers."
One area that Brookshire's has continually improved is its sustainability commitment, "which has been one of our core strategies for over three years," notes Rayford. "It's so important to our environment, and there's a corporate responsibility that mandates us to make sure we do what we can to protect it. Going green every chance we can is the right thing to do, and I'm proud that we consider it a priority in all of our decisions."
As previously stated, however, there is no greater priority than Brookshire's partners. "Having the right people, and letting them take care of our customers better than anybody else, is central to our mission of providing a great food shopping experience," Rayford says. "We have to have the best people to do that. Our shoppers expect It, and we're going to keep doing our best to help educate our partners to be the best that they can be."