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Two Industry ‘Native Sons’ Do Well, and Do Good

Two Industry ‘Native Sons’ Do Well, and Do Good

SN presents two awards in this week's issue — the Marketer of the Year Award and the Community Service Award.

Both winners reflect an essential aspect of successful food retailing — the bond between the supermarket and the local community.

Jon Wendel, senior vice president of marketing at Hy-Vee and this year's Marketer of the Year, is a native Iowan who worked part-time at a Hy-Vee store in high school and has spent more than 30 years with the company.

Riverside, Calif.-based Stater Bros., the winner of this year's Community Service Award, is led by Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jack Brown, who grew up in the Southern California region known as the Inland Empire where he now runs one of the nation's most successful regional chains.

In a story featuring an interview with Wendel, beginning on Page 16, he explains that marketing at Hy-Vee is not driven by executives holed up in an office at the chain's West Des Moines, Iowa, headquarters. Instead it is a collective effort that is developed based on feedback from the store level, where Wendel himself spent several years on the front lines of the industry.

“The reason this company is successful is not that it's the top telling the bottom what to do, it's the bottom telling the top, ‘Hey we need hot prices,’ and then believing in it,” Wendel told SN. “It's a marketing effort by the whole company.”

Hy-Vee is particularly well suited to respond to local needs because of its structure, explained Neil Stern of consulting firm McMillan Doolittle.

“They have always been a leader in the way they give ownership to the store manager and the team,” he told SN. “That is a powerful equation — being a chain but still having all the good aspects of what it means to be an independent. That's what makes them so successful.”

Likewise, Brown's leadership at Stater Bros. is fueled in part by his native son status. The long-tenured CEO — he's been at the helm of the chain since 1981 — has not only strengthened the company's fortunes, but has also strengthened its ties to the local towns and neighborhoods where it operates, and where Brown first worked in the food-retailing industry himself as a teenager.

“We are a hometown company, and our philosophy from the very beginning of the corporation has been that we don't just do business in the community but rather we are part of the community,” Brown told SN in an article beginning on Page 29.

Interestingly, these examples of local ties between grocer and community are juxtaposed against the industry's massive fund-raising effort under way for earthquake victims in Haiti. SN details some of these initiatives in a story on Page 36.

Perhaps the connectivity that food retailers have with the people in the towns and neighborhoods where they do business facilitates connectivity with the broader world community as well. Once again, supermarkets are demonstrating the important role they can play in people's lives, both at home and abroad.

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