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Service with a Smile

If you ever make it to the Chicago area I highly recommend that you visit Joe Caputo & Sons Fruit Market IGA, the four store independent (or six, depending on whether or not you count the three acquired Dominick’s stores yet to be converted, one of which will replace an existing Joe Caputos store down the block from it) that is the cover story of Progressive Grocer Independent's June 2014 issue.

The grocer’s Palatine store, which I visited last month, offers a ton of produce hand-picked daily, a variety of Italian and other ethnic specialties, a world-class deli, award-winning bakery, a vast wine selection, and even a brick oven pizza station that cooks up slices on par with New York pizza (sorry Nat and Vito – as a New Yorker I cannot say they are better, but feel free to say I’m biased!)

The grocer’s stores themselves are a work of art. Their interior walls are painted to resemble an open-air market in Italy, complete with a blue sky and small buildings with shuttered windows. And that’s exactly what it feels like standing in the middle of the produce department.

Product selection and store design notwithstanding, the store’s key differentiator, what really stood out, were the grocer's employees, with a beaming smile on every employee’s face – starting right at the top with brothers and co-owners Nat and Vito Caputo. It’s hard to find two independent operators who enjoy the business more. In person, both give off an enthusiasm that is contagious as they fire off one story after another about the business. What’s more, they inject their shoppers with a large dose of passion for the business, and you can plainly see it in action as you watch them interact with shoppers.

Right from the start, employees are instructed to engage with shoppers. “We ask each new employee to introduce themselves to one shopper each day,” Nat told me during our interview. “They may not remember that shopper’s name next time they come into the store, but guaranteed that shopper will remember their name.”

The Caputo brothers also encourage employees to become experts via the IGA Coca-Cola Institute’s Online Video Training program. Each employee must take a minimum of three online courses per year, which range in topics from merchandising to food safety, and many take more than the required amount, as the more knowledge they have about the business, the more they can help shoppers.

All this results in close personal engagement between the shoppers and store associates which – along with a genuine smile that shows a love for the business – goes a long way toward the grocers (and the employee’s) success. A real win-win for everybody.

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