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2013 Power 50: Hank Meijer, No. 7 in Other Retailers Selling Food

Hank Meijer
Hank Meijer

Hank Meijer is working to keep his company’s supercenter format fresh — literally.

Long known for its quality produce offerings, Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Meijer Inc. is stepping up its efforts in that area with more frequent deliveries and seeking to extend the quality halo across all of its perishables, the company’s co-chairman and chief executive officer told SN.

“For the last several years we have really worked to improve our general merchandise offering, and we relied on fresh — particularly produce — as a signature area for us,” Hank Meijer said. “We know we’ve got to get even better there. That’s what the competition is focusing on as well.”

The focus on improving the perishables offering comes as the supercenter operator marks several milestone moves in its history — it opened its 200th location in May in Swartz Creek, Mich., and in the coming weeks is scheduled to open its first store in the city of Detroit.

The first Detroit store — a full-sized supercenter at 190,000 square feet — is significant both for the company, as it seeks to expand into more urban locations, and for the city, which has suffered from economic malaise and has been underserved by chain retail, Hank Meijer explained.

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Both Whole Foods Market, which recently opened a smaller-format store in Detroit, and Meijer broke ground on their projects around the same time last year.

“We hope that is a harbinger of good things to come for the city,” Meijer said.

Meijer also continues to make inroads in the Chicago market, where it is opening a store in Evergreen Park in the coming weeks, and is making plans to expand into the Milwaukee area in 2015. A lack of brand recognition will be the key challenge Meijer needs to overcome in Wisconsin, Hank Meijer said, while in Chicago the company continues to refine its smaller-store format.


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The four smaller-format stores in the Chicago area — at as little as 91,000 square feet, or about half the size of a typical supercenter — “are achieving good sales,” Meijer said, although he added that results are “not where we’d like them to be.”

“We know we have a lot of work to do, and that it has provided us with some great challenges in localized marketing,” he said. “Chicago is just a wonderful patchwork of ethnic tastes and backgrounds, and we know we’ve got to get better at that.”

Perhaps the biggest accomplishment in the past year at Meijer has been the management transition at the family-owned company, which saw Mark Murray promoted to vice chairman and co-CEO alongside Hank Meijer, and J.K. Symancek promoted to president. The moves allow Murray to be more involved alongside Hank Meijer in “helping shape our governance as a private company,” Meijer explained.

“We are committed to remaining a family company. At the same time, with new generations coming along in the future, we are looking at how to best structure that,” Meijer said.

“I think you always feel good about a very sound succession process of capable people, but this one has gone very well, and that is a major source of strength and stability,” he told SN.

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