Here are a few more tidbits from our September 2010 interview with Stew Leonard Jr., president and CEO of renowned food retailer Stew Leonard’s:
New York Enterprise Report: Besides value-consciousness, what other buying trends are you seeing among your customers?
SL: We’re seeing concern for the environment as a big trend. We’re putting a lot more emphasis on providing products from local and family-owned farms. We’ve found our customers would rather buy those than they would a product labeled “organic.” They trust that the local family farmer is using minimal amounts of pesticides or chemicals, and they also like the idea that the produce didn’t have to travel hundreds of miles in big trucks. It’s like customers are voting with their money.
NYER: What kinds of challenges do you see ahead?
SL: My dream is to write a book called “How Does an Entrepreneur Grow a Chain Without Acting Like One?” Every business starts out very entrepreneurial and it’s exciting. Everybody does everything, and it’s “Let’s bring pizzas in and work through dinner” kind of stuff. As you grow to one or two thousand employees, how do you keep that feeling going?
Here’s a little story that just breaks my heart: All of our team members wear Stew Leonard’s shirts, and we used to sell them in the store. There was an article in the local paper about somebody who was caught shoplifting, and that person was wearing a Stew Leonard’s shirt. So somebody made a policy that we’re not going to sell Stew Leonard’s shirts anymore.
Now a couple just about to get married comes to the courtesy booth and asks if they can buy Stew Leonard’s shirts because they love it here and they shopped here often when they were dating. And the answer was no, you can’t do it; that’s the policy.
Mamma mia! If I were there I would have said, “Here’s your free shirt,” gotten my picture taken with them, and told them to send me a picture from the honeymoon.
Lee Lusardi Connor is a business writer and editor. She can be reached at LeeLusardi@gmail.com.