Part 4: Meijer Retailer of the Year Profile


As much as Big Data may tell us that shoppers have changed, there are a handful of core demands that have remained constant which Meijer strives to own on a daily basis.

“I don’t think shoppers have changed as much as it sounds like they have,” Doug Meijer muses. “People still want clean stores and a good value, and still want to be treated” in a way in which their patronage is acknowledged and appreciated.

“I think that’s right,” Symancyk agrees. “One of the first big evolutions of this company was the birth of the supercenter. What drove that is not altogether different than what customers are looking for today, which is better assortment, better choices, more convenience and better service. There are more ways that we have the opportunity to deliver that to customers. As the world continues to evolve at a rapid pace, there’s going to be even more choices that customers have. It all comes back to friendly service, great assortment, great value and a convenient shopping experience. Those are the drivers that matter today, as much as they did when we started the company 80-plus years ago.”

Beyond that, it’s meeting the unique needs of each community. “We regard everybody as a potential customer,” Hank Meijer says. “We don’t have a certain demographic, income level or characteristic that says ‘that’s our customer.’ I think that’s where we’re differentiated from many of our competitors.”

Moreover, he adds, with food marketing increasingly fragmented among multiple channels, the same can be said for Meijer’s retail contenders: “Everyone is a competitor.”

Unlike most traditional grocers, Meijer has the further task of balancing its food and GM categories to ensure customers are getting exactly what they need. “That’s another area where the customer will define that for us,” Doug affirms.

Meijer’s store leadership structure defines responsibilities over each category, and it’s up to each store to drive its individual business.

Wow Factor

“I don’t know if we do have a balance,” Symancyk says. “I think most customers walk in our door with their grocery list, their needs for the week being the primary driver of that trip. What we really look to do in general merchandise is to have the right assortment, the right value on those things that they need. Then, that we’re really paying attention to deliver good, better best in a way that truly surprises and delights customers who are in our store. We love the idea that someone is going to be at a dinner party or a ballgame, and be asked the question, ‘Where did you get that?’ and the answer is Meijer, and the reaction is, ‘Wow, I didn’t know Meijer had that.’ That’s really a big driver of our general merchandise strategy.”

Ultimately, Meijer wants folks to “go away happy, satisfied and well taken care of,” Doug says, and, Hank adds, “really [feeling] good about having enjoyed great values.”

Symancyk elaborates: “I think when we do what we do well, customers walk away feeling like we’re looking out for their best interests. [If] they experienced a friendly atmosphere with a lot of team members oriented toward helping them, then we feel like we’ve done our jobs.”

Historically, Meijer was a pioneer in cross-docking. A generation ago, that was a marvelously efficient system and a highlight of supply chain. Now, technology and manufacturing are driving the change. Addressing the latter, Meijer has opened a second dairy plant to ensure a consistent supply of milk to its stores. As to the former, it’s about energy efficiency, and better partnering with suppliers.

“We’ve been good at high-volume, fast-moving merchandise,” Symancyk says. “Over the last five to 10 years, we have evolved to hold onto that strength, and to also be better at the right pace of replenishment. We’ve looked at energy utilization across our fleet, anything we can to help be more efficient and lower costs so we can pass that value to our customers. That’s paying dividends and helping us to be even more competitive.”

Great Lakes Retailer

Meijer relishes its role as a booster of goods produced in-state, from Michigan stone fruits to Kellogg cereal to beers from Grand Rapids’ vibrant microbrewing community.

“Michigan’s a huge food-producing state,” Hank affirms. “The variety of produce is second to California. We’ve got a number of major food processors in the state.”

The company expects to eventually extend this pride marketing to other states where it operates.

“When we opened the first stores in Wisconsin, we probably spent more time prior to the Milwaukee and southern Wisconsin openings understanding the market, working with the community, and that’s gone very well,” Hank recounts. “We’re concentrated in now just six states, and we have every expectation that we will be local in each of those markets. We operate on a saturation model. We seek to serve everybody in the communities you’re in. That intensity means that we’re going to be a part of that community, and figure out every way we can to understand its needs.”

When asked to discuss Meijer’s leadership and associate empowerment efforts to better serve shoppers, Symancyk says that the company has spent ample time digging further into how to broaden its reach. “One of the benefits of being a smaller company and growing methodically over time, is that team members inherently have great relationships with each other. There’s a long sense of history and experience to draw upon that builds a closeness, like that of a family,” which he believes has been integral to the company’s growth.

Today, however, Symancyk notes, “We’ve gotten to a size that that makes it a little bit harder to do, so we are really focusing heavily on investing in our leaders’ abilities to train and develop new leaders.”

The one thing that holds it all together, according to Symancyk, “is a really tight sense of values that are consistent across the organization.” Of the company’s longtime open-door policy, he observes, “The great benefit that the three of us have, as do so many leaders across the company,” is direct knowledge of, and interaction with, customer sentiments.

Characterizing the convoy of e-mails and phone calls that he and his cohorts personally review, discuss and ultimately aim to resolve as “a real blessing,” Symancyk contends that keeping tabs on direct customer feedback “enables us to learn so much. We’re able to take action and respond accordingly,” either when missing the mark or figuring out ways to improve. “That’s part of what a great family environment is all about.”

This is the forth in a five-part series on PG's Retailer of the Year profile story on Meijer.

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