Cut Fruit, Service Spell Success for IGA Store

Fresh-cut fruit and outstanding customer service have made a winning combo for an IGA store here that has seen sales grow significantly each year. This small store, the Red Bud IGA, situated in a town with a population of just over 3,000, gets high marks from customers because they are made to feel that they matter, some said in a survey. They told me they really like to shop at the

RED BUD, Ill. — Fresh-cut fruit and outstanding customer service have made a winning combo for an IGA store here that has seen sales grow significantly each year.

This small store, the Red Bud IGA, situated in a town with a population of just over 3,000, gets high marks from customers because they are made to feel that they matter, some said in a survey.

“They told me they really like to shop at the Red Bud IGA because they're offered samples of fresh produce, and the employees are nice and pay attention to them,” said Mona Doyle, president of Philadelphia-based Consumer Network, a consumer research group that maintains contact with a large base of consumers across the country.

The Red Bud IGA has a far-reaching reputation for making customers its highest priority.

“It's one of our core convictions that we treat people with dignity and respect, and we tell our associates that from the very beginning,” said owner T.J. Norrenberns.

“It's all teamwork. If we were rated for teamwork on a scale of one to 10, I bet we'd get a 20,” Norrenberns told SN last month.

His team has responded in a big way to customers' demands for fresh-cut fruit, but that's not all.

If a customer wants to taste a grape, an orange or an apple, they need only ask. Often, they don't need to ask. A sign might invite them to taste the seedless grapes to see how sweet they are this month. Or an associate might offer them a slice of Fuji apple, or something they may never have tried before.

“We're not out on the floor all the time, but when we are we pay attention to our customers,” Darla Cowell, produce manager, told SN.

“When we first got pluots, for example, we'd offer customers a taste as we told them what they were.”

Cut fruit has become a magnet and a sales driver at this particular store, pushing both produce sales and store sales up double digits, year to date.

Fruit trays have long been a signature item at the 14,500-square-foot store, and recently small cups of cut fruit have been the sales stars.

“People like the quality, the freshness. We cut the fruit right here. We have someone chopping up fruit in the back almost all day long,” Cowell said.

The most popular size these days is a 12-ounce cup for $3, but the best-seller in that size is a combo of fresh pineapple pieces and sliced strawberries, with a retail of $3.99.

The category has evolved based on customer demand, and has given the store a definite edge over its nearest competition, a Wal-Mart Supercenter, Cowell told SN.

“It's the convenience as well as the quality. People may be having a hard time financially, but they're also busy. Looking after their kids, and then there are the games, football and volleyball practice after school.”

The expanding demand has spurred an addition to the store — a separate room for cutting fruit, about 400 square feet, and an additional walk-in cooler. Construction has just begun on the addition to the store. Merchandising space for cut fruit has been tripled in the last five years.

“Every quarter until this last one, sales have grown,” Cowell said. “This is the first [quarter] we're down a little, just by about 1%, but we'll get back up in September, I think.”

Owner Norrenberns said customer service has always been very important.

The keys to execution of such memorable service are telling new hires that serving the customer is the highest priority. That's coupled with a reward system that results in bonuses for every department that meets certain goals. After the production and sales goals are established by Norrenberns, department managers are given free rein as to how they accomplish those goals.

They also are given a target margin to aim for.

“T.J. just comes to us each quarter and hands us a piece of paper with our goals written on it,” said Cowell. “My sales goal for produce this past quarter was $14,425 a week. We didn't quite make it this last month. We almost hit $14,000, but I know September will be better.”

The system keeps department managers and their associates on their toes because a specific amount of sales is expected per man hour, Cowell said.

Then there comes the teamwork. Everybody is in it together, and will be rewarded. Not all associates are cross-trained but they willingly fill in for one another when possible, Norrenberns pointed out.

“I trust them and that works,” he said, adding that he treats his associates with the same respect he does his customers.

“I don't have surveillance cameras and I don't have to watch them closely. It's just trust and teamwork. It's my core conviction that God wants me to use his principles in the workplace.”