For Lauren Redman, running a grocery store is hard work, but it’s also a pleasure to reap the rewards that come from the happy customers and dedicated employees at Newport Avenue Market in Bend, Ore.
“All of our employees are what makes the magic, frankly,” said Redman, president and CEO of the store’s parent company, Rudy’s Markets, which also owns two stores under the Oliver Lemon’s banner. “Between our customers and our employees, that’s where the fun is.”
Redman spent about 20 years working outside the retail grocery business before she came back to the company — which had been founded by her family and is now 100% employee-owned — in 2011.
Newport Avenue Market has forged a bond with its local customer base that transcends the typical customer-retailer relationship. During the pandemic, for example, one customer on four occasions walked in and gave a $50 bonus to every employee working that day, and another gave the store manager $1,000 to buy lunch for the entire store crew as a reward for their hard work.
Another customer gave the store a $10,000 gift — in memory of her brother, who was a special needs adult — to support the retailer’s efforts to employ local people with special needs. Redman and her team parlayed that gift into a matching-gift fundraiser for the Opportunity Foundation of Central Oregon, which helps special needs people develop the skills to work and live independently.
In addition to the challenges of the pandemic, Redman also has had to contend with a massive road construction project that has restricted access to the store for most of the last three years.
“Our customers have weaved and bobbed and made their way through to us despite all of that,” she said.
The company had predicted that the construction would cause a 25% decline in sales, but in fact sales soared in 2020 and 2021, and recently sales have only been off 3% compared with year-ago results. Its success also is reflected in its employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) share price, which was up more than 50% in 2021.
The store itself seeks to stand out by being “first, best or different” in everything that it does. It sources beef from a local co-op that it has been buying from for about 30 years, rather than offering commodity beef, for example. It also is known for offering distilled spirits — which are tightly restricted in Oregon — as well as its assortment of more than 600 beers and a strong wine selection. Other standout offerings include the specialty cheese department, which Redman described as being “on par with the best in the state,” and a unique, stainless steel wall display for produce.
The real key to the retailer’s success, however, has been its employees, said Redman. She said the company’s outside-the-box thinking when it comes to merchandising applies to its staff selection as well.
“We aren’t looking for the traditional ‘can you fog the mirror’ person,” she said. “We’re looking for somebody who really, really gives a riff about what they’re doing and can choose to have fun and find joy in what they’re doing. What we do isn’t easy, and certainly the last years have highlighted that.”
This feature is part of our 2023 “SN Independent Superstars” list: see more superstars here.