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2012 Power 50: No. 24 Hank Meijer

If there’s one word to  describe Meijer’s focus over the past year, the company’s co-chairman and chief executive officer says it would be “fundamentals.”

“An awful lot of what we’ve been doing in the last few years has been positioning us for more accelerated growth,” said Hank Meijer who, along with his brother Doug, runs the 197-store, family-owned chain based in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The investments that Meijer speaks of are now poised to deliver tangible benefits. All areas of the business have received attention, from information technology and organizational development to distribution and merchandising. With the internal review completed, Meijer is prepared for its next stage of growth.

“We haven’t been opening a lot of stores and now we see our expansion accelerating in the next few years,” said Meijer.

Some of the growth is already apparent. The retailer is getting ready to open its fourth Meijer Marketplace in the Chicago suburbs this summer. These smaller-format units are almost twice the size of traditional supermarkets, but still smaller than the 180,000-square-foot supercenters for which Meijer is known. The company developed the shallower footprint in response to similar moves by its chief big-box competitor, Wal-Mart Stores.

Meijer has invested millions of dollars to develop the Marketplace design, though it remains a work in progress.

“They are doing OK,” Meijer said of the three stores currently open. “We expected them to do better than OK. We’re looking at all the categories that we try to represent in those stores and to figure out what’s going to be most productive.”

Over the past year, Meijer has beefed up its executive team to strengthen its marketing prowess. It recently created the position of chief operating officer, appointing company veteran J.K. Symancyk; his chief merchant duties were assumed by the hiring of Peter Whitsett, a high-level executive who formerly fulfilled similar duties at the Dick’s Sporting Goods chain. Much effort has gone into the product selection in stores. Meijer is an unabashed booster of its home state of Michigan. This past January, the retailer launched “Made in Michigan,” an entrepreneurial development initiative developed in conjunction with Michigan State University that brings locally made products to stores. Marinara sauce, blueberry butter and gluten-free baking mixes have been among the initial 49 products placed on shelves.

Meijer is investing in its own products as well. The company acquired Holland, Mich.-based Bareman’s Dairy in March and will spend more than $8 million to expand the plant. The renamed Purple Cow Creamery will supply milk to all Michigan stores.

“It’s another facet of our business that we’re positioning for growth,” said Meijer.

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