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INDEPENDENTS REPORT: Family means business

Like many independents, Alabama retailer Greg Calhoun began his food industry career as a youngster when he was hired as a part-time package clerk at a local grocery store. When he joined Southwest Super Foods at age 14, he never dreamed that he would someday become one of the most accomplished supermarket owners in the country.

Today, the soft-spoken Calhoun, 50, is president and c.e.o. of Calhoun Enterprises, which owns and operates four conventional supermarkets in the greater Montgomery area. A philanthropist who has served on the boards of many charitable organizations, including the United Way, Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation, and the Montgomery Area Food Bank, Calhoun is highly regarded in the industry for his contributions to the Food Marketing Institute board of directors and to other trade associations.

Proud to be the first African-American elected to the FMI board, he has served on the organization's executive committee for three consecutive terms and is lauded for launching the popular FMI African-American Share Group, which was established in 1995. Calhoun has set his sights on becoming FMI's first African-American chairman.

United front

Calhoun credits his family, especially his wife, Verlyn, along with the family's 375 associates, for his many personal and professional accomplishments. His list also includes a handful of "partners" who have supported him throughout his 36-year career.

"Verlyn and I have been married for 33 years and we've built this business together," says Calhoun. "As the c.f.o. of Calhoun Enterprises, she understands the business and its many demands. Fortunately, I've always been able to work the long hours required to grow our stores because she was right there with me."

He continues: "One of the greatest rewards from being in the business is the feeling of family unity. Having my children and family members work with me gives me a sense of accomplishment. Because of their capable leadership, I'm able to commit time to my FMI board position."

Among the family members working with Calhoun and his wife are sons Malcolm, v.p. and g.m.; and Renard, who works in the auditing and promotions departments; and a daughter, Shakenya, human resource manager at Calhoun Foods. Other relatives include the grocer's father, Thomas Calhoun Sr., his sister, Dorothy Glaze, and his father-in-law, Vernon Pressley, who recently retired.

While family has been instrumental to his success, Calhoun stresses that many others have provided help along the way.

"My close relationship with Albertsons and my involvement with FMI have provided opportunities that I never thought were possible," he says. "Over the years, I've served as a consultant for Albertsons and have provided guidance in regard to managing diversity in many areas, including human relations and store development.

"In return," says Calhoun, "Albertsons' Peter Lynch, Larry Johnston, past chairman Gary Michael, and their teams have provided my family with marketing assistance, buying power when purchasing equipment, accounting services, store set-up assistance, cross-docking programs, training and development, and more."

Participating in Albertsons-sponsored management programs inspired two of his children to earn graduate degrees, he says. "Malcolm received his M.B.A. in marketing at Auburn, and Shakenya earned her master's in human resource management. It's definitely been a win-win situation for everyone involved."

Calhoun gives high marks to both Coca-Cola USA and FMI for their ongoing support of the African-American Share Group. "Both Coke and FMI have provided a platform to discuss pertinent issues, including the development of inner-city markets and human resource management within the African-American community. They bring in experts to help keep our members on the cutting edge," he says.

Focus on community

Working closely with Calhoun and his constituents is FMI's Todd Turner, v.p. of membership and urban affairs.

"Our role is to serve as the facilitator for the African-American Share Group in that we help to arrange meetings, store tours, and speakers," says Turner. "I'm personally honored to work with retailers like Greg Calhoun; Johnny Johnson of Richmond, Va.; Henry Baines from Baltimore; Chicago's Leonard and Donna Harris; and Michael Williams of Memphis, to name just a few."

He adds: "In terms of ethnic marketing and urban development, these retailers provide expertise to FMI, our supplier members, and to each other. They have that link with their individual communities in that they provide jobs, fresh foods, and a true understanding of their neighborhoods."

While Calhoun has contributed greatly to the industry and has likely received more support than most retailers, he concedes that owning supermarkets in today's competitive environment is no easy task. "Competition, the economy, finding the right people to fit positions within the company, and securing cash to grow the business are major challenges. It's definitely not easy out here," he says.

"As we move into the future, it's my hope that my children and grandchildren will continue to lead Calhoun Enterprises by being patient and by staying focused on the customer," he continues. "As a parent, I've taught them to go to work every day and to work as hard as they possibly can. And I hope they'll always appreciate my approach to running the business: Nothing worthwhile is free."

Independent Retailing editor Jane Olszeski Tortola can be reached at [email protected].
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