Lack of action on development not ‘part and parcel’ to store
Ric’s Food Center Store Director Dave Brickner wonders if rumors over the ongoing lack of action in the Cannon Town Center development might be costing the store customers.
He said the store has a 20-plus-year lease and ownership of the planned unit development at Myers Lake Avenue and Belding Road is unrelated to the financial situation of the store.
“It’s not part and parcel to the food center,” he said. “We have our own decades-long lease, and who owns the property does not affect that.”
Brickner said he believes the property surrounding the store on three sides is a gold mine waiting for the right developer, with great exposure to two busy roads and a location where business and residential is prime for growth.
“This will be the next area in Rockford to grow. It’s an awesome location and we have the best schools in the state. As a person, that’s what I looked at when I was thinking of coming here. All our elementaries are in the process of serious expansions. Where else in the state do you see that happening?” said Brickner, who has a kindergartener starting school in Rockford this week.
People in Rockford appreciate quality schools and understand how important funding is to keep schools effective. “I come from an area where people were notorious about voting down millages. Here people support the school, and that makes a huge difference,” Brickner said.
Qualities such as the school and the community will be a draw when the time is right for a smart developer to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the now nearly vacant Center. Cannon Township Supervisor Pete MacGregor pointed out that much of the expense of a large development is already completed for the Center. He called the development a “plug and play” opportunity, meaning a buyer could obtain the property and begin building and selling with very little extra expense or effort.
Brickner said rumors in the township have been circulating since the Ric’s Food Center opened on February 1, 2008. The rumors have worsened since the development went into foreclosure this summer and became property of the bank. Brickner speculates that some customers may be waiting to see what happens before they make Ric’s their grocer of choice. “If people think we might not be here to stay, they may be reluctant to make it their regular grocery store,” he said.
Brickner said the future residents of the development will be welcome customers, but even without, the store is gaining new shoppers regularly as people price check in a tough economy and discover how competitive Ric’s prices are.
The October world economic crash hit Ric’s, just as it did businesses of all sizes, but the store has weathered the storm well. “I’ve always felt groceries are a pretty safe business because everyone has to eat,” Brickner said. “When all that happened, at first I felt bad for us, but then I realized it’s not just us, it’s the whole world.”
West Michigan has, in Brickner’s opinion, been hit a little less hard than other places. He said he has heard very high unemployment numbers in other parts of the state and thinks we may have escaped some of the very worst of the economic woes. For the store, constantly seeking feedback from customers—and taking action on that feedback—has helped Ric’s serve the needs of the community better in this economy and is the reason Brickner feels the store is regularly seeing new, loyal customers.
“We had to change the way we do some things here, but I hope that never affects the customers. That’ s our goal,” he said.
The small, family-owned chain’s core philosophy is on customer service and never losing sight of their goals. From day one, the store set high standards in staff. Brickner said he conducted 700 interviews while hiring the staff of 70. Recently, some employees left to go back to school, and 300 people applied for the 12 positions.
“I’d rather do 10 interviews and not hire someone than to hire a person just to fill a position,” Brickner said. He believes the friendly and very capable staff is part of the store’s success.
Open house days that Ric’s hosts (watch for another coming soon) are attended by every employee, and they all love the positive feedback from visitors. “We live on that enthusiasm,” Brickner said. “We have several open houses to reintroduce ourselves. It’s wonderful to have our customers come in and say what a nice job we are doing.”
The corporate mentality of “customers first” comes from the Woodrick family and is fostered right on down to every employee. “If you do right by the customer, everything that follows will be all right,” Brickner said.
He appreciates that he doesn’t have to be afraid of making a mistake and stresses that to the staff in the store. “I really don’t want to hear someone telling a customer ‘no’,” he said.
An example is the company’s lenient return policy. If a customer isn’t happy with the product, they get their money back with very few exceptions. “Why would you lose a customer over a 79 cent can of corn?” he said.
A customer who spends $200 a week in groceries spends $10,000 a year. “I am a firm believer that there is no small thing. It is all important,” Brickner stated.
Another example is the storewide philosophy of helpfulness. If the deli is closed, an employee will open it back up to give the customer what they want. “I’m closing tonight,” Brickner said. “I guarantee I’ll make a sandwich or two or scoop some salad.”
Refusing to jump on the self-serve bandwagon is another example of the store philosophy. Brickner said he went into a larger chain store to pick up an item at a busy time of day. He was disturbed to see many more machines than people ready to take care of customers. “We have the technology to do that here, but we won’t do it,” he said of the self-check machines.
The human interaction is a big part of customer satisfaction, he believes. “You don’t even have to do anything wrong to lose a customer, you just don’t have to do something right. It’s very important to have a person available to your customer.” He said continuing to offer taking groceries out to a shopper’s car is still popular and another amenity some stores no longer offer. “We do 200 to 300 take-outs a day.”
Pricing is also a big part of customer service and one of the things the store has worked hard at in response to feedback. “I’d put our sale ad against anyone’s,” Brickner said.
He believes tough times have led people to more careful shopping. “They are shopping less but shopping better,” he observed. People are doing more meal planning than before. Many take advantage of the store’s policy of doubling coupons up to 50 cents. Brickner said if people will take the time to compare prices, they will see how competitive the store is.
The meat department is a gem that not enough people recognize, Brickner believes. Few stores still staff trained butchers who cut meat in-store for the best quality and freshness.
Brickner said he was a little disheartened when he shopped in the annual Lakes yard sales. “There were a lot of people I didn’t recognize.” He believes many folks drive by the store every day and haven’t yet stopped in. If they do, he believes they will be pleasantly surprised. If they don’t, the store still isn’t going anywhere.
“You think we are all alone here, but we aren’t. If you look up and down Belding Road, there are a lot of businesses here,” Brickner said.
Still, Brickner is as interested as everyone else to find out what will happen to the planned Cannon Town Square.
“We are always listening for the next bit of what’s happening with the development. We hear rumors, too. When we were planning to open, we thought there would be other businesses opening right along with us. That hasn’t happened yet. It’s too bad, because this is a great place for any number of businesses, and has great exposure. I’d like to see the community welcome them as well as they have welcomed us.”