INDEPENDENTS REPORT: Old growth and new

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INDEPENDENTS REPORT: Old growth and new

Nestled in Missouri's gorgeous Ozark Mountains region is a family-owned supermarket operator that's been built on a foundation of solid Woods -- Woods named Bertha and Don. It was in 1947 that Bertha and Don Woods -- who will celebrate their 67th wedding anniversary this year -- along with relatives Monte and Ina Woods, ventured into the grocery business. As they see it, "We were just looking for a way to make a living." During the six decades that followed, the couple would ultimately help thousands of others in their town and in surrounding communities to do so the same.

The Woods family and their 500-plus associates have always been a step ahead of their food industry competitors. Their first store, located in Long Lane, Mo., featured a fuel station. The company, serviced by Associated Wholesale Grocers (AWG) since 1948, was the first to introduce scanning in its market.

However, as I learned more about this fascinating eight-store operator (thanks to my friend and colleague Paul Adams, along with Adam Chapman of Leawood, Kan.-based InQuest Marketing), it became clear that for the Woods, being the first to offer the most popular goods and services in town is considered commendable, but only as long as your associates and customers are the company's No. 1 priority.

It's a philosophy that's helped the Woods to grow, and they continue to invest substantially in employee training and development programs developed in-house and by AWG.

Now managed by second-generation owners Don Woods Jr., an MBA, and his wife, Joan, a former teacher, Woods Supermarket continues to flourish in markets crowded by such tough competitors as Wal-Mart Supercenter, Save-A-Lot, Ramey's, Price Chopper, and Bing's.

Staying true to their company's legacy, even before the world's largest retailer came to town, the Woods were once again a step ahead of the competition. In 1998 they launched an ingenious training and communications program, "That's Solid Woods," which allowed the company to capitalize on its numerous strengths, including decades of friendly service, easy-to-shop stores with a wide variety of product brands from which to choose, bagging and carry-out service, in-store butchers, finest-quality perishables, and competitive pricing. In essence, That's Solid Woods became the official brand representing the outstanding attributes that generations of customers had come to appreciate.

"All we've learned in executing the Solid Woods program has been a key to our long-term success," says Don Woods Jr. "We've remained extremely strong in the face of tremendous competition, from both the big-box stores and other independents. We're proud to have provided thousands of jobs for people, and we take very seriously our commitment to the young people in our communities. We strive to teach them strong work ethics and values so they will have the tools to be successful in whatever careers they choose."

"We're also extremely proud of our store teams," adds Joan Woods. "They're comprised of the finest people in our communities."

Their communities are also proud of the Woods, who participate in a number of industry and philanthropic organizations. Don Jr. has served on the boards of directors of AWG and the Ozark Empire Grocers Association, and is a recipient of a number of prestigious awards, including Missouri Grocer of the Year and Ozark Empire Grocer of the Year.

Devoted to helping children and teenagers, Joan serves on the boards of the Alpha House Pregnancy Resource Center, a crisis-pregnancy center in Bolivar, Mo., and the Child Advocacy Center in Springfield, Mo.

What does the future hold for this 60-year-old independent grocer?

With the third generation of the Woods family -- including Chris, Jeff, and Shelley Woods, the adult children of Don Jr. and Joan -- currently pursuing careers outside the business, a talented management team led by v.p. of operations Craig Easter stands ready to carry on the family values and commitment that have always allowed the Woods to stand tall.

Editor's Note: On behalf of Progressive Grocer and the many independent grocers inspired by the Woods family and their associates, congratulations on your 60th anniversary. We thank you for allowing us to join in your celebration.