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Part 1: PG Selects Meijer as 2015 Retailer of the Year


"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

This quote by Winston Churchill could just as easily come from Hank and Doug Meijer, co-chairmen of the western Michigan-based retailing powerhouse that bears their family’s name.

A 222-unit large-format chain that ranked 19th on Forbes’ most recent list of America’s largest private companies, Meijer’s family-crafted, one-stop-shopping, large-store experiment, launched by its founding fathers in 1962, has emerged as a venerable Midwest mainstay and innovative supercenter dynasty.

Sitting at eighth on Progressive Grocer’s Super 50 ranking of the nation’s top food retailers, with 2014 revenues topping $15 billion, Meijer has now earned further bragging rights as PG’s 2015 Retailer of the Year. The company last received this honor in 2006, and the great strides it has made in the intervening years make it eminently worthy of recognition once again.

Following a course of steady growth and commanding strong affinity with its core base of Michigan shoppers, Meijer has expanded into six Midwestern states and employs more than 65,000 associates. In tandem with its measured growth, the retailer has invested hundreds of millions of dollars over the past few years in new and remodeled stores, expanded distribution facilities and new technology to help serve its customers better.

Continuously Conscientious

A fierce, nimble competitor, Meijer exhibits many hallmarks of a company setting the pace for its peers. Guided by a keen focus on the five Ps —product, presentation, promotion, place and, particularly, price — Meijer continues to gain market share and fine-tune the “retail format of choice.” Yet as it grows, its guiding ethos — to remain true to the simple philosophy that if you take care of customers, team members and community, they’ll take care of you — mirrors its stance as a conscientious company that has embraced the importance of supporting the neighborhoods where its customers and team members work and live.

“We were fortunate to have a dad and a grandfather who ingrained into us early on the importance of giving back to support the communities where you do business,” Doug Meijer says, “and it just keeps on developing and morphing into something bigger and better as we grow — not because it’s the right thing to do from a business standpoint. It’s just simply the right thing to do.”

Doug’s equally unpretentious brother, Hank, is also quick to credit their parents, Fred and Lena, for grounding them in the awareness that one’s ultimate impact is defined not by what can be sold, but what can be done, to better the lives of its family of associates and the communities they serve.

“We always strive to bring innovation and appreciation to the Meijer shopping experience,” Doug explains. The entrepreneurial spirit that sparked its first store, he continues, “has now extended to the more than 65,000 team members, who continue a rich tradition of bringing easy, affordable solutions to our neighbors.”

A definitive leader in a retail landscape under siege, Meijer’s culture of thrift, stemming from an abiding penchant to save customers money by seizing the latest innovative ways to do so, is integrally woven in the fabric of the self-distributing retailer, which has steadfastly strived for continuous improvement to keep its big-box format efficient, interesting and relevant.

At the same time, the privately held retailer’s dual family leaders, in tandem with President J.K. Symancyk, who recently left the company and who has since been replaced by 26-year company veteran Rick Keyes, stalwartly seek to instill their purpose-driven mindset, homespun Midwestern sensibilities and an empowered sense of stewardship into the extended family of Meijer associates, to deliver on the company’s enduring customer-centric mission.

“One of the things that’s been core to our growth is that from a very early stage, we recognized that even though we are a family company, having the name ‘Meijer’ bestows no special talents on anyone,” declares Hank. “We’ve had a strong tradition of professional leadership with nonfamily leaders, which we enjoy today with J.K. and his team. Encouraging leadership and talent from other backgrounds has really positioned us to continue growing as a private company, and is an important part of who we are.”

An Ear for Local

Listening to shoppers is a key component in Meijer’s successful standing as a major player in an ever more crowded field of retail formats. From its landmark stores in Michigan, through expansions into Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois, to its latest stores in metropolitan Milwaukee after entering Wisconsin earlier this year, Meijer has demonstrated a commitment to its core customers and an understanding of the cross-channel world in which they live — and an ongoing commitment to providing quality goods to consumers hungry for value.

“I think every retailer talks a good game about localization, but it’s always harder than it seems,” Hank admits. “It’s an ongoing process of listening to our customers for what brands matter most, what products they’re looking for in a specific market. It’s an ongoing challenge.”

Upon being formally recognized by the Michigan Historical Society as the nation’s first supercenter this summer (see sidebar on page 38), Hank paid tribute to the opportunistic vision of his grandfather, Hendrik, and his father, Fred, “to bring families more retail choices [by] breaking down traditional barriers” between selling groceries, clothes and hardware. The company’s founding father-son team, he added, “helped revolutionize retail and left us an incredible legacy to build upon.”

And build they have.

Meijer’s present store fleet ranges in size from 110,000 to 250,000 square feet, each carrying as many as 350,000 SKUs and operating 24/7, 364. In addition to national brands, Meijer has judiciously developed some 30 private label brands throughout fashion, hard lines, spirits and grocery, with 3,900 exclusively using the Meijer moniker.

This is the first part of PG's Retailer of the Year profile story on Meijer.

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