As co-chairman and chief executive officer of a retailer that bears his grandfather’s name, Hank Meijer has a deeper connection to both his business and the region it serves than most executives at $15 billion companies could claim.
His company, which pioneered the supercenter format in 1962, has deep roots in Michigan, as well as in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. And until Wal-Mart Stores began encroaching on its territory, it was the only game in town for shoppers who wanted one-stop shopping for groceries, general merchandise and gasoline.
Competing with Wal-Mart has posed its share of challenges, particularly in today’s difficult economy. A management realignment last summer allowed Meijer to re-evaluate its store-level leadership ranks and shift many employees into new positions that they were better suited for — but it also led to 500 layoffs.
“We are looking at the resources we have and will realign them with the services we provide,” Meijer spokeswoman Stacie Behler told the Muskegon Chronicle prior to the layoff announcement. “This is not about labor reduction, we’re just trying to put the right people in the right role.”
But the company hasn’t simply resorted to cost-cutting as a survival tactic. The competitive pressure has also resulted in a great deal of innovation, with Meijer working to strengthen his company’s ties to the communities it has served in the region for more than 70 years.
For example, as its shoppers feel the sting of rising gas prices this summer, Meijer has cut their costs by 10 cents per gallon from June 1 through Labor Day, as long as those customers use their Meijer credit card to purchase fuel at one of the company’s 165 gas stations. Last month, Meijer also launched a new online program called Meijer Mealbox, which helps shoppers plan meals and generates shopping lists that highlights special promotions and coupons. Observers say it has already significantly boosted Meijer’s coupon redemption rate.
In April, the company announced that its 182 pharmacies had provided more than 2 million free antibiotic prescriptions to the region’s residents — in less than 18 months since the program’s launch. In June, the company’s pharmacies began offering free prenatal vitamins as well.
And a broader set of ongoing health and wellness initiatives — including nutrition education programs, on-staff dietitians, a new organic private- label brand, and screening programs in the pharmacy departments — continue to set the company apart from its competitors.
“Our customers are increasingly sophisticated. They combine cost-consciousness with a growing awareness of choices that affect their lives and the lives of those around them,” Meijer wrote in an SN Whole Health editorial last fall after his company won the magazine’s annual SN Whole Health Enterprise Award. “It’s our job — and our privilege — to meet their needs.”
— MATTHEW ENIS