Yesterday, The Save Mart Companies announced Shane Sampson as executive chairman. Sampson brings four decades of retail grocery experience to Modesto, Calif.-based Save Mart, including various executive positions at Albertsons, Sam’s Club, Ahold USA, Shaw’s/Star Market and Jewel-Osco. Most recently, he served as chief merchandising and marketing officer at Albertsons Cos., followed by stints at cannabis supplier Medicine Man Technologies (now Schwazze) and convenience/fuel retailer Jacksons Companies.
A week earlier, Save Mart unveiled its acquisition by Kingswood Capital Management, a Los Angeles-based private equity firm that also had acquired Alameda, Calif.-based Cost Plus World Market in January 2021 from Bed Bath and Beyond.
In an interview late Monday with Supermarket News Senior Editor Russell Redman, Sampson talks about his new role at Save Mart and what drew him to the Western grocer, which operates 204 stores in California and Nevada under the banners Save Mart, Lucky/Lucky California, FoodMaxx and MaxxValue. Here are edited excerpts of the discussion.
SUPERMARKET NEWS: What brings you to The Save Mart Companies as executive chairman?
SHANE SAMPSON: It’s a great opportunity in a great area. The location, in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Central Valley, is a food place. I’ll call it a foodie place, between the vineyards and, especially, the growing region here for produce. So I’m really excited about the opportunity and the proximity. And I have to plug the team. You saw the announcement last week about the change of ownership in the company. Chris McGarry is going to continue as CEO, and I know a lot of the team members here. So I’m excited about being able to be a part of that. That’s really what brings me here, the excitement about how do we take a great company and make it better.
SN: Let me try and catch up with your recent moves. You left Albertsons Cos. in September 2019 after almost five years as chief marketing and merchandising officer. Tell me about your experiences since then.
SAMPSON: Most recently, I was with Jackson Companies. That’s an entrepreneurial, multi-business company. It’s got c-stores, a fuel business, an aviation business, car washes and franchising, which is the ExtraMile brand [convenience store] joint venture with Chevron. I found it fascinating and exciting to work with the family around that company. It was very different, you know, from coming from a big company to an entrepreneurial-spirited, multi-faceted company. So that’s what I’ve spent the last year-and-a-half doing.
SN: And I think, after Albertsons, you also spent some time at cannabis company Medicine Man Technologies in the same role as chief marketing and merchandising officer, right?
SAMPSON: Yes. I was with a former colleague of mine, [former Albertsons chief administrative officer] Justin Dye, the owner of Dye Capital [and chairman and CEO of Medicine Man Technologies]. The company is called Schwazze, which was rebranded [from Medicine Man]. It was a company based in Denver that I worked with.
SN: What do you bring to the table for Save Mart as executive chairman?
SAMPSON: A passion for customers, a passion for the people and a passion for food retailing. You know, I started on the floors of a store as a clerk and worked in a lot of different areas of the country. And I like that. One day is never the same as the one before.
SN: That’s true.
SAMPSON: It’s been an interesting time, the last two years. I’ve been out in stores, and this is what I love to do, to go and meet with the customers. I’ve been out in the stores all weekend and meeting with our team members. They’ve been through a lot the last couple of years. They’ve worked very, very hard, and I’m sure you hear that a lot and see it a lot. Our team here in the office has been out helping the stores where needed and mobilizing the troops to take care of the customers during the pandemic. And I couldn’t be prouder of what I see out there today. So I’m excited about the opportunity in the area, and what I bring to the table is a passion for the food industry.
SN: Save Mart celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. What opportunities do you see for the company?
SAMPSON: It’s probably not fair to answer that right now. But my next 60 days, you know, I’m going to wear out the soles of my shoes going to the stores and being out there on the front lines working with the team. We brought it up last week and in Monday’s announcement: We want to take a very good business and make it even better. So how do we take our expertise and work with the team here and get better at what we do every day? That’s what folks do in this business. How do you get better every single day? And if you do that, and if you're very customer-focused and people-focused, you win.
SN: What excites you most about your new role at Save Mart?
SAMPSON: It’s really, first, to work with the team. I’m really excited about the team here. It’s a close fraternity in retail, right? People know each other, a lot of the folks in the industry have crossed paths. I know a lot of the team members, and I’m excited to work with them. And, like I said earlier, being in the stores is the best part of any day.
SAMPSON: Let me first talk about some of the things we want to get better at — I’ll call it the block and tackle. The stores are the most important thing that we do day in and day out, making sure that we’re in stock, have clean stores with great customer service, and have the fresh foods. Fresh foods are really important to us. We’re in the best growing regions of the country, right here in California. So we’re very close to that, and giving our customers what they want on that front is important.
And then how do we enhance the opportunity at the brick-and-mortar store level with our omnichannel approach? We’ve been investing in a series of digital and e-commerce strategies that give customers the option to get products how they want it, when they want it and where they want it. That’s key to where the customers are going. Then we’ve got a new store that we opened pretty recently, Store 1, which really about the experience. So again, I think you’re going to have wins in certain areas of the store, and then how do you take those great best practices and scale them out? The thing with us around innovation is we’re a large regional player, which allows us to be fast. If we see a great idea, and a lot of these come from our store folks, we can mobilize quickly and get that to all the other stores. Being fast and nimble is extremely important in the industry today.
SN: How does the acquisition by Kingswood Capital help Save Mart?
SAMPSON: This is not Kingswood’s first experience with retail. They’ve also acquired Cost Plus World Market [in January 2021], our sister company right here in Northern California, which is kind of cool. You know, [Kingswood Capital managing director] Alex Wolf was a part of the Albertsons-Cerberus transaction. So we feel that we’ve got really good partners who understand retail to support our leadership team here as we move forward. That’s important. As passionate as I am about retailing and all the things that we talked about earlier, Alex is passionate about retail as well. That’s why he and the Kingswood team have invested in the company.