It has been a momentous year for Smart & Final and President and CEO Dave Hirz. The uniquely positioned retailer is observing its 150th anniversary and was recently acquired by Bodega Latina, parent company of El Super and Fiesta Mart, and a subsidiary of Mexican supermarket operator Grupo Comercial Chedraui. Progressive Grocer spoke with Hirz about the $620 million deal, what’s next for Smart & Final, and the keys to staying relevant with shoppers for 150 years.
Progressive Grocer: On the occasion of the 150th anniversary, could you describe the company’s origins, where it expects to take the business next, and why?
Dave Hirz: We’re proud to be one of the oldest and longest continually operating food retailers in the U.S. The company opened its first store in Los Angeles in 1871 under the name Hellman-Hass Grocery Co. It was founded by Jacob Hass, who later became mayor of Los Angeles; Herman Hellman; and Bernard Cohen. Packaged goods did not exist yet, so the stores sold everything in bulk, and they carried items considered to be everyday necessities at the time, including flour, brown sugar, salt, medicines, rope, sheepherding supplies, chewing tobacco and gunpowder.
Eventually, Hellman-Hass Grocery Co. merged with Smart & Final Wholesale Grocers – named after J.S. “Jim” Smart and H.D. “Hildane” Final. The combined company kept the Smart & Final name.
Smart & Final’s notable history includes such industry milestones as introducing the concept of “cash and carry” west of Chicago and creating what we believe is the very first private label brand, Iris – a brand that is still available at Smart & Final today!
Today and going forward, we will continue to provide the necessities of the day for both our household and business consumers. The quality, value and variety we offer and our deep relationships within the communities we serve continue to set us apart from the competition.
PG: How is the company planning to leverage its rich history in communications with shoppers and promotions?
DH: We have some amazing historical photos of the company’s early days, which we’ll be sharing with customers on social media and in our sales flyer. We also developed a 150th anniversary logo and brand identity, which will be carried across our in-store signage, traditional weekly mailers, digital newsletters, internal communications, throughout social media and on our trucks. Our marketing team also created a series of clever radio spots that highlight historical and fun moments from various decades of our existence – the disco era, for example.
PG: What was behind the recent acquisition by Bodega Latina? How does Smart & Final expect to benefit, and what sorts of synergies will be realized in sourcing, supply chain and other areas?
DH: Bodega Latina recognized Smart & Final’s unique and successful business, which is complementary to their El Super and Fiesta Mart store banners and allows them to scale and expand their U.S. footprint.
For Smart & Final, this is a tremendous opportunity to partner with an innovative and highly successful multinational company with deep experience in food retailing. We are thrilled to join an organization that understands our strengths, culture and customer-centric philosophy so that we can deliver the best value and shopping experience to our customers. We are excited to explore synergies and best practices that will result in a better experience for customers across all the banners.
PG: In its many years in business, what was Smart & Final’s biggest mistake/miscalculation, and how did it turn things around?
DH: At one point in the early 2000s, we made the decision to focus more on our household customers and stop carrying some products for our business customers. It quickly became clear that our business customers relied heavily on Smart & Final for these items, and it was a crucial competitive advantage of ours. We immediately reinstated these items and have never looked back or re-evaluated our focus on fulfilling the needs of our business customers.