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Two Meijer Views, Both Focus on the Customer


Hank Meijer, co-chairman of Meijer, Grand Rapids, shared the history of the family retail business at Western Michigan University’s Food Marketing Conference, held April 11-12, at the DeVos Place in the company’s home town.

Largely taken from the book he wrote, “Thrifty Years: The Life of Hendrik Meijer” (1984, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.), Meijer spoke of the company’s history from The Thrifty Store in 1934, which grew organically out of “treating people with respect” – many of whom were on welfare and simply weren’t welcome at other stores – and by providing goods at low prices. “This is what got my grandfather off the ground,” Meijer told attendees of WMU’s 51st annual Food Marketing Conference. “Minding our Customers” resonates with shoppers, which in turn is supporting monumental growth for the 224 supercenters and grocery stores that operate in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Wisconsin.

Art Sebastian, director of digital shopping at Meijer, provided an overview of “Channel-less Retailing in a Multi-Channel Industry.” Consumer dynamics continue to change with generational and cultural shifts and economics. Shoppers want to shop online, off their mobile device, and in-store, and want added layers of convenience like home delivery and in-store pick up.

“Channel-less is where consumers get the seamless experience they want and where the retail business is also viewed as seamless – both e-commerce or in-store,” Sebastian says. Meijer addresses shopper preferences with kiosk ordering, multi-lane self-check, curbside pickup and is testing home delivery. The retailer is also working to “reimagine the online experience” with the use of analytics, which allow shoppers to “favorite” items for future orders, be reminded of purchase patterns, and for the retailer to recommend other items the shopper might like based on current purchases.

In being mindful of Meijer’s history, and as it plans for the future, the retailer is able “to enjoy the advantages of scale, but think small again and again. We always remember the customers,” says Sebastian.

WMU’s Food Marketing Conference supports the students and curricula of the school’s Food Marketing Program. More than 800 attendees included students, and retail and CPG executives. 

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