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Store Profile

Stater Bros. Markets:
70 years of meeting customers' needs


Southern California chain grows its floral business by capitalizing on its trademarks of quality and service.

by Cynthia L. McGowan

Stater Bros. Markets, the largest privately owned supermarket chain in Southern California, is celebrating 70 years of offering its loyal customers a winning blend of low prices, hometown service and store innovations. Super Floral Retailing visited the company’s flagship Encinitas store and saw how floral fits into the company’s customer-friendly philosophy.
Stater Bros., whose sales increased 4 percent in fiscal 2006 to $3.5 billion, is a company on the go. As part of its yearlong anniversary celebration, the 162-store company announced it is moving its headquarters from Colton to a $250 million, 2.1-million-square-foot corporate headquarters and distribution center in San Bernardino, to be completed this year. It also has spent $15 million on produce refrigeration and expansion, the Los Angeles Times reports. It continues to invest in its stores, planning to open four new ones during the anniversary year, which began Aug. 17, 2006, and remodeling 25.
But despite its growth, Stater Bros. hasn’t forgotten its roots. Its logo is a blend of red-white-and-blue stars and stripes, suggesting patriotism, pride and tradition. It invests time and training to make sure it offers top-notch customer service. It is a generous benefactor of local charities. The company is said to treat its employees—who are called “family”—with respect, and that respect is returned.
 
 
Stater Bros. Markets
 
 
HEADQUARTERS Colton, Calif.
CHAIRMAN and CEO Jack H. Brown (pictured here)
STORES 162 in Southern California (in Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties); the company also owns Heartland Farms dairy
SALES $3.5 billion in fiscal 2006
ESTABLISHED 1936 by twin brothers Cleo and Leo Stater
EMPLOYEES 18,000
STORES' AVERAGE SIZE 30,000-45,000 square feet
FLORAL SERVICES All 162 stores have floral, with services depending on store size; many provide custom designs, weddings and events
FLORAL EMPLOYEES Average one per store
BIGGEST FLORAL HOLIDAY Mother’s Day
FLORAL DIRECTOR Liane Temple; she is also the chair-elect of the Fresh Produce & Floral Council
FLORAL SPECIALIST Martha Rangel
WEB SITE www.staterbros.com 

 

stylish store
The company’s store in Encinitas, in San Diego County, is representative of the upscale design in new Stater Bros. stores and remodels. It was updated in 2005 and offers a sophisticated shopping experience, complete with stylish dÈcor and service departments including floral, deli, wine and more, while maintaining the company’s commitment to everyday low prices.
Stater Bros. acquired the store in 1999 when it bought 43 stores from Albertsons Inc. The Encinitas store’s remodeling was designed to appeal to the high-end tastes of the area’s consumers—the median household income in Encinitas is $63,954, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, compared to the U.S. median household income of $43,318. “They know what they want, they know what it should look like, and what they want is what they expect,” remarks Diana Bridgman, the Encinitas store director.
To entice those shoppers, the store’s decor includes a trendy color palette of brown, cream, green and orange, which carries throughout the store. Tiled walls add to the ambience.
The deli offers hot meals for today’s busy, on-the-go consumers. The specialty cheese section has domestic and imported selections, with booklets for customers advising them on their picks. The nearby salad and olive bar offers an abundance of fresh selections.
In the bakery, a sign overhead proclaims, “Baking Fresh Daily So You Don’t Have To,” and offerings range from desserts to wedding cakes to La Brea Bakery artisan breads. The store’s wine department, called the “Wine Cellar,” looks like a “store within the store” and has subdued lighting, Tiffany-style hanging lamps, a large selection of beverages on wooden merchandisers and a wine steward to help customers with their choices.
All Stater Bros. stores, including Encinitas, offer full-service meat departments, where customers can hand-pick cuts with the help of experienced butchers. The company charges the same prices per-pound for self-service and full-service meat.
The company has said in the past that its meat made Stater Bros. famous, but its recent expansion of produce has drawn customers’ notice. “Produce is extremely important to Stater’s,” says Liane Temple, the company’s director of floral. New and remodeled stores carry as many as 800 produce products, including specialty items.

benefits of floral
Another program that the company has grown in recent years is floral. Before the company acquired 43 Albertsons stores in 1999, floral had a small presence in Stater Bros. stores, usually just an end case display. With the acquisition, the company suddenly had 43 floral departments and needed a floral director. That’s when it hired Ms. Temple.
“We’ve grown the department,” she says, “and our upper management realizes the benefits that floral has for the chain. It creates the freshness, the quality, the ambience for the store.”
It also fits with Stater Bros.’ philosophy of offering complete service to customers. Having floral allows “one-stop” shopping, Ms. Temple says, so now customers can get everything they need in one store, from flowers to desserts.

 
keys to success
 
 
TRAINING PROGRAM Stater Bros. Markets has an intensive training program for clerks that ensures they emerge with the knowledge needed to run a floral department. All employees are taught customer service skills.
FRESH PRODUCTS A “guaranteed” program with its main vendor means that any product not sold is the responsibility of the vendor, perhaps giving the supplier more incentive to have only the freshest florals. Products are delivered to the stores twice a week.
HOME DÈCOR LINE A sophisticated, upscale line of products for home dÈcor has met with great success.
MERCHANDISING The look of the floral departments changes often. The floral clerks are learning about interior design so they can display the home dÈcor line to best effect.
CROSS-MERCHANDISING The entire store gets into the act for cross-merchandised promotions.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT Stater Bros. Markets has given thousands of dollars to organizations in the communities it serves.

 

impressive display
Stater Bros’ investment in floral is evident from the moment customers step foot into the Encinitas store. Floral is directly at the entrance, creating a lasting impression of style and beauty as customers shop. “Customers just love walking into a setup like that,” Martha Rangel, the company’s floral specialist, says. “Their eyes light up when they walk in and see a beautiful floral display.”
They’re responding to a garden delight of cut flowers and blooming and green plants. In one section, an island display brims with flowers by the stem and consumer bunches. Stater Bros. expanded the stem program in response to customer demand, Ms. Temple says. “We had so many customers asking for other, higher ticket items like ‘Casablanca’ lilies and more upscale flowers,” she says, “so we put this section in.”
Ms. Rangel agrees that the stem and consumer bunch selection is a favorite with shoppers, who like to pick out their favorite flowers and then have the in-store designer create a bouquet or arrangement with them. “That is very successful,” she says.
Customers can choose from a tantalizing array of blooms for those designs including amaryllises, Proteas, Cymbidium orchids, gingers (Alpinias) and Anthuriums. “Tropicals do well here,” Ms. Temple says. The store is near the beach, and tropical flowers fit with the sun-loving culture of Southern California.
The centerpiece of the floral department is a four-sided, open work station with signage proclaiming “Fresh Floral” on each side. The side facing customers when they enter the store has a cooler full of colorful bouquets. Top-sellers in Encinitas are 12-stem rose bouquets and 25-stem mixed bouquets, whose flowers include lilies, Gerberas and spray mums. Customers “like the nice, big bouquets with all the variety,” Ms. Temple says.
Bouquets and cut flowers are the floral operation’s top sellers, but blooming and foliage plants are important, too. One side of the floral department
work station has shelves of blooming and green plants to tempt shoppers, in addition to separate round merchandisers elsewhere in the department. Plants include callas, orchids, bromeliads, Hydrangeas, Gerberas, lilies, ivies, palms and much more. Helpful signage offers consumers ideas for displaying with other plants and care instructions.

home decor line
Another important element to the department is its line of upscale home decor items. Stater Bros. started the program two years ago to meet the needs of the store’s sophisticated clientele. “It did so well here, we’ve taken it to some of our other stores,” Ms. Temple says. “We have about 27 stores that we call our ‘Home Decor Boutique Floral Stores.’ Customers love it, and the program is doing very well.”
Products, attractively displayed to suggest how consumers could use them in their homes, include candles, decorative vases and urns, fountains, bird cages, trunks, tables and mirrors. “They do really well,” Ms. Bridgman says. Complementing the line are permanent floral designs created exclusively for Stater Bros. by a local business.

vendor partnership
Customers at Stater Bros.’ larger floral departments can have arrangements made while they shop. “That’s especially popular in Encinita
s,” Ms. Rangel says.
For the most part, though, arrangements are made by Spectrum Floral Service of Vista, Calif. Stater Bros. has a unique partnership with the vendor, which supplies most of its cut flowers, bouquets and arrangements. Spectrum also decides how much product to place in each store. It’s a guaranteed program, which means that “they are responsible for any bouquet or arrangement that doesn’t sell,” Ms. Temple says.
Ms. Temple sees it as a “win-win situation” for both Stater Bros. and for Spectrum. “It is in their best interest to deliver only the freshest, most beautiful product,” she says.
Another benefit for Stater Bros. is the service it is able to provide customers. Because Stater Bros’ floral operation is still a growing program, not all of its floral employees, called General Merchandise Clerks (GMC), are skilled floral designers. Having the Spectrum partnership allows Stater Bros. to handle weddings, proms, graduations and corporate events. Using Stater Bros.’ “Entertainment & Party Guide,” which showcases its event flowers, the floral clerks work with customers to get their orders, and Spectrum fulfills them.
For big weddings, Ms. Rangel will conduct consultations herself. Stater Bros. handles 25 to 30 weddings a year.

 
floral competition
 
 
Stater Bros. Markets has floral display contests during major holidays like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Thanksgiving. The contests are a way to increase sales and spur creativity in merchandising. Store directors, produce managers and floral clerks work together on the displays.
The winners receive prizes and also are recognized in the in-house company magazine, The Family News.

Displays are judged on:
Creativity
Best use of space
Theme
Signage
Cross-merchandising

 

floral training
Training is key to Stater Bros.’ reputation as a leader in providing customer service. For example, newly hired checkers undergo a five-day course in “how we expect our customers to be treated,” company CEO Jack H. Brown told the Los Angeles Times.
Ms. Rangel, who trains all floral clerks, says, “It is my job to take clerks and train them so they can run a department successfully.” Many of the floral employees have no floral experience, she says, so she concentrates first on making sure they get the basics of plant identification, care, presentation and pricing, using the company’s floral training manual as a guide. “I just try to have them learn as much as they can about their products,” she says.
For more advanced designers, she offers group workshops in design and merchandising techniques. Floral is a part of the produce department, and she has included produce managers in the training, “which is absolutely essential to have them learn what their clerks are doing,” she says.

company teamwork
Teamwork is important to Stater Bros. The stores emphasize cross-merchandising in their displays, and it is one of the criteria in the holiday floral display contests Ms. Temple conducts.
Emphasis on teamwork is also evident in how the company treats its employees. In a recent The Family News, a 22-page Stater Bros. in-house magazine, Mr. Brown—known affectionately in the company as “Our Jack”—wrote to employees, “For over 25 years, I have felt that my number one responsibility was your job security and the job security for your family.”
That concern apparently has paid dividends, especially during the 141-day Southern California supermarket strike that ended in March 2004. Stater Bros. employees were not involved in the strike, and the company gained sales from customers who wanted to avoid picket lines.
The contract from that period expires in March, and grocery workers by January already had agreed to a new one with Stater Bros. Officials at the United Food and Commercial Workers union told The San Diego Union-Tribune that they hope the contract will serve as a model for other grocery stores in the region.
Union leader Mickey Kasparian told the newspaper, “They’ve taken on the philosophy that they want their workers to come to work every day feeling good about their customers and their jobs. It’s great to have an employer that views employees with the highest regard.”
It’s a view echoed by Ms. Bridgman, who says having Mr. Brown’s confidence and respect makes employees want to do their jobs better. “I want to do the best I can for him,” she says. “It’s a sense of pride.”

 
praise for stater bros.
 
 
Consumer Reports rated Stater Bros. Markets the best place to shop for groceries among full-service supermarket chains in Southern California and No. 10 in the United States in its October 2006 issue.
 

You may reach Cynthia L. McGowan at cmcgowan@superfloralretailing.com or by phone at (800) 355-8086.


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