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March 8, 2011 > Grocery Outlet at Sundale Center

Grocery Outlet at Sundale Center

By Simon Wong
Photo by Brooke Bettencourt, B.E.B. Photography

Grocery Outlet's 150th store opened for business at 4949 Stevenson Boulevard (at Blacow Road) on Saturday, February 19. The area has been without a supermarket since Albertsons vacated the site almost four-and-a-half years ago. The new 22,000 sq. ft.-store, with 15,300 sq. ft. of floor space, is larger than the average Grocery Outlet store and provides excellent access for all customers.

"I heard about the new store because I shop at the Newark branch. I live in Fremont so this is much more convenient for me," said Nancy Bronson. "Grocery Outlet has good deals and brand names. I tend to buy whatever's extra special when I visit."

There is nothing clever about the company's name. It is literally an outlet store for groceries. However, the business model is clever; the quality of the merchandise is identical to what is available in other supermarkets but with up to a 40-50 percent discount on the manufacturer's suggested retail price. Milk and eggs carry a smaller discount.

Each week, there are several fresh produce deliveries from Fresno. Harris Ranch supplies fresh meat. The self-serve delicatessen counter stocks guaranteed-fresh products. Grocery Outlet purchases everything direct from the manufacturer instead of brokers and diverters. Although the company has conventional relationships with some suppliers to ensure availability of basics, it quietly and discreetly moves overstocks and overruns, which account for 75 percent of merchandise, bearing either the brand name or a second label. Grocery Outlet does not advertise such lines.

In some instances, a conventional retailer might order eight truck-loads of a given product and not have enough storage space. Grocery Outlet receives the "excess" for a fraction of the price. Vineyards might change their label color so inventory bearing the old labels becomes a "problem product" and is discounted heavily.

"A colleague used to call Stouffer's every other Monday morning and tried unsuccessfully to establish a relationship. He was advised they'd eventually hear about us. Two-and-half years later, they called and we helped with their excess product. We were able to offer their lines as extreme bargains with different packaging," explained Jeannie Calkins, Grocery Outlet's Director of Retail Marketing.

"Everything in our stores is guaranteed. If you take it home then change your mind, bring it back for a full refund. Customers won't always find the same products in stock but they'll always find a major brand name of laundry detergent, ice cream, vegetables... it might be Green Giant on one visit and Del Monte on another. If you see it, buy it because it might be gone tomorrow," advised Calkins.

Buying is done by head office and the consignments to each store are owned by the company unlike a typical franchise. Revenue is split between Grocery Outlet and the owner/operator who has the flexibility to stock what sells well in their communities.

The stores in Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, are owned by local people, often husband-and wife teams. The company's "family" ethos echoes Joanie and Mike Williams' sentiments. They have owned and operated Grocery Outlet in Newark, since June 2009.

"I spent 31 years with Lucky Supermarkets in Las Vegas where we found and researched the opportunity to become our own boss with Grocery Outlet," explained Mike Williams. "During the application process, it's clear they're keen to have families join them. Our son Dustin (aged 30) manages the Newark store, which has 28 employees, and our other son, Kevin (aged 29), works with Glen who manages the Fremont branch which employees 52 people. Joanie and I are flexible and go wherever we're needed.

"Having two stores means we can offer staff more hours so they can better support their own families. Customers have expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to feed their families at a reasonable price. Some have even said that they could afford to send their children to college because of Grocery Outlet. It's heartening to learn we might be making a difference by doing what we do."

"We raised our family in Las Vegas and now they're here working with us. We're very fortunate," added Joanie Williams.

"It's great to have grand openings in these hard economic times; so many businesses are closing. We're thrilled Grocery Outlet has come to Fremont. Not only are you serving the community, the store's outfit created jobs and you're doing so for your staff. Grocery stores are a staple. Surrounding businesses and local residents are delighted you've come to their neighborhood. We wish you every success and look forward to you becoming a strong community partner," stated Fremont Vice Mayor Sue Chan at the ribbon cutting on February 16.

"What didn't emerge when you spoke with my father is his loss of both parents within six months of each other, when he was 17. Although he seldom talks about his childhood, he started bagging groceries at about that time at Lucky Supermarkets in Las Vegas, eventually became a general manager, then an account manager for a while before joining Grocery Outlet. My brother and I always look up to him; he's 'our hero.' He's a positive role model for us and has proved that one can achieve. His story, bagger to grocer with two stores, is inspiring and humbling," confided Dustin Williams, respectfully.

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