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Kevin Doris wins Zaucha Award

“It’s that one-on-one relationship employees develop with customers that makes an independent like Gerland’s succeed." — KEVIN DORIS, president and CEO, Gerland Corp.

Kevin Doris, the president and CEO of Gerland Corp., believes employees are “the backbone of any successful independent business.

“It’s that one-on-one relationship employees develop with customers that makes an independent like Gerland’s succeed,” he told SN.

Speaking with SN a couple of weeks prior to receiving the Thomas K. Zaucha Entrepreneurial Excellence Award from the National Grocers Association at its annual convention in Las Vegas, Doris said he planned to accept the award on behalf of the 1,600 people who work at Gerland’s 18 Houston-based stores.

Kevin Doris
Kevin Doris

“The kinds of relationships they develop with customers is always difficult to establish, but it’s what independent operators do so well — work with our people to make ourselves different from the chains, especially in terms of providing great service and understanding the customers better. 

“It’s important for independents to keep the values they’ve built over the years with their employees and their customers. Those are the things that make us successful at the end of the day, and that’s what’s kept Gerland’s in business for more than 52 years.”

Doris said he’s also a strong believer in trade associations, particularly NGA.

“One reason independents today can be successful is the help we get from NGA on ways to move our businesses forward,” he explained. “The most successful independents are the ones that commit themselves to their businesses by working with NGA.”

On Saturday night he was scheduled to receive the Zaucha Award, presented annually by Mondelez International to recognize an independent grocer who exemplifies persistence, vision and creative entrepreneurship.

According to NGA, Doris was selected for the award for having “the vision and commitment over the years to change his business to meet the ever-changing ethnic and competitive landscape in Houston.”

Doris told SN he was humbled to win the award, particularly since it’s named for Zaucha, the founder of NGA and for 28 years its president until he retired in 2010.

“Tom is a true gentleman in this business who did such a wonderful job for the association by building a great platform that will enable it to go on for many years to come,” Doris said.

Last February Doris received NGA’s Clarence G. Adamy Great American Award for “exemplifying involvement in public affairs as a citizen or an industry representative.”

'A better fit'

Although Doris spent a short period in the early 2000s as a director of Food Marketing Institute, he got more involved with NGA in 2004 “because we felt it was a better fit for Gerland’s,” he explained.

“After attending several of NGA’s annual and interim conferences, we just felt it was a more comfortable environment for us to associate with other smaller, regional independents, and we also felt NGA’s financial services program made for a better fit.

“As an independent operator, we want not only ourselves but also other independents to be successful because the stronger any single independent is, the stronger we all are, and we need to be sure our voice gets heard in Washington.”

Doris became an NGA director in 2006 and moved up to the association’s executive committee two years later.  He has also been NGA secretary the past two years.


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When he joined the board, Doris said he asked to be part of NGA’s government relations committee — a group he ultimately chaired in 2011 and 2012 — “because I wanted to be involved with what the association was doing to help independent chains deal with interchange fees, country-of-origin labeling and issues involving food stamps and WIC.

“These are all matters that put an undue burden on independents, and I wanted to make sure our voice was heard by doing something on behalf of all independent retailers to help overcome the challenges we face.”

Winning the Zaucha award caps a 45-year career for Doris at a single company, Gerland’s, where he started as a general clerk while still in high school, then worked in a variety of departments as he earned a business degree from the University of St. Thomas in Houston.

When scanning was new, Gerland’s assigned Doris to help install the technology for the chain and to implement host computer systems to support it, and his reward was being named VP of operations in 1982.

See all of SN's stories and videos of The NGA Show 2014

A year later founder A.J. Gerland sold the company in a leveraged buyout to three of his sons and three employees, including Doris.

The three Gerlands sold their stakes in the chain in the 1980s; a fourth partner, J.W. Morris, retired in 1997; and the company’s CFO, Jeff Reeder, died in mid-2012, leaving Doris with a majority interest, which he shared with Reeder’s heirs.

Following the advice of strategic consultants, Doris decided to sell Gerland’s to the company’s wholesaler, Grocers Supply Co., Houston, in January 2013, though he has remained with the company through the transition.

Doris, 61, said he plans to retire Feb. 15, though he will remain a consultant to Gerland’s for an open-ended period that will last at least six months. After that he plans to devote himself to traveling, golfing and spending more time with his family, he said.

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