FINDING A NICHE IN THE MEAT DEPARTMENT

MARION, Ill. -- Customers know what to expect when they shop at any of the nine Borowiak's IGA supermarkets in southern Illinois -- clean stores, friendly service and meat departments that are second to none in the area, according to Trevor Borowiak, who bought his first store in 1991 after growing up working in his father's supermarket, another meat-oriented operation."Our forte is probably our meat

MARION, Ill. -- Customers know what to expect when they shop at any of the nine Borowiak's IGA supermarkets in southern Illinois -- clean stores, friendly service and meat departments that are second to none in the area, according to Trevor Borowiak, who bought his first store in 1991 after growing up working in his father's supermarket, another meat-oriented operation.

"Our forte is probably our meat departments," he said. "If we have a claim to fame, that would be it."

He said the stores all have butchers who are on duty "just about around the clock." Stores grind all their own beef and also cut up all the chickens themselves, and Borowiak avoids pre-packaged meats. In addition, most store managers have worked their way up through the meat department, he said.

That dedication to the center-of-the-plate service has helped Borowiak build sales while he acquired and renovated all nine stores, earning him IGA Retailer of the Year honors this year.

In addition to strong meat departments, all the stores in the company also feature what Borowiak calls the "three be's" -- be clean, be friendly and be competitive.

"That is really the basics of our business," he said.

One of the ways he helps his stores remain competitive is through his own youthful enthusiasm and energy. He just recently turned 35 and his business partner of 10 years, Jeff Kell, the general manager of the company, is only 32.

"He's been a very important part of this every step of the way," Borowiak said. "If I say we're going to start a project at 5 o'clock at night and we're going to work right through until 7 o'clock the next morning, he's right there and never complains."

He said constant renovation and improvement, whether that involves a whole new decor package or just a more modern piece of equipment, have been important elements to his success. "If you fall behind, you start losing sales," he said.

Most of his stores have a Wal-Mart Supercenter within a 20-minute drive, and he also competes with Schnucks and Kroger.

His strategy for competing with Wal-Mart, he explained, is to pay attention to price on key items, offer higher levels of service and offer a wider variety of items that his customers want, rather than try to match prices with the global giant.

His biggest challenge, however, has been to grow same-store sales. Although his company has grown its total sales dramatically in the past 10 years through acquisitions -- including five stores in the last two years -- he said the small-town economics where he operates sometimes make it difficult to squeeze out gains in same-store sales year after year.

"It's really hard to drive sales today," he said. "We just have to look at it and say, 'This is my buy, and how do I make money on it."'