Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Independent Grocer Memo: Eight-Store Michigan USA Independent Hiller's Markets Demonstrates Why Independents Survive and Thrive in the U.S.

Independent Food and Grocery Retailing USA

Michigan USA independent grocer Jim Hiller embodies many of the qualities that make the independent food and grocery retailing sector the thriving success it is in the U.S., despite all of the pressure and competition independents receive from the chain store giants. Hiller, the CEO of eight-store Hiller's Markets, also has a number of unique qualities that make him an exceptional entrepreneur and grocer, as well as an interesting guy.

For example, he writes and publishes his own Blog on the Hiller's Markets Web site. And he takes positions on issues.

His most recent cause is a campaign encouraging people to "Buy American" automobiles. Michigan, where Hiller operates his eight supermarkets (with number nine on the way) is hurting more than any other state in America in the current economic recession. It has the highest unemployment rate, for example, currently hitting about 13%, compared to a 6.7% rate nationally. And of course, Michigan -- specifically Detroit and its suburbs -- is "Big Three" automaker country. Even with the current government loans, the Detroit automakers are shedding thousands more jobs, which also means thousands more lost because so many other jobs in the state are related to the ato industry. [Read independent grocer Jim Hiller's most recent post, "Why I Drive An American Car," here.]

Hiller's is a success in Michigan for a number of reasons. But central among the reasons are because the small, independent chain does what independents do best -- it offers a great selection of food and grocery products at affordable prices, focuses on specialty items not available elsewhere in many cases, makes customer service job one, and places a total focus on the local communities and neighborhoods where it operates its stores, including customizing each of its eight stores to the particular communities and neighborhoods they are located in.

Below is how Hiller's describes its stores:

"If you’ve never been to an authentic grocery store before, you’ll love Hiller’s," says Jim Hiller

Our grocery stores offer premier products, gourmet delectables, healthy choices, and lifestyle shopping. It has been said that we eat with our eyes before we ever take a bite. You’ll have such a sensory-rich experience at Hiller’s - how good it will feel for shopping to be enjoyable and even fun!

The company was created in 1941 by Sidney Hiller with a commitment to quality, selection, and value. Now, led by Jim Hiller, Hiller’s Markets is Michigan’s home for discerning shoppers. We listen to shoppers, and we obtain items that you request, no matter how arcane, rare, or unusual.

Hiller’s embodies Jim’s passion for food, for wine, and for excellence. The Hiller name is known for quality, variety, great taste, and unparalleled customer service.

Hiller’s is the place for people who absolutely love food and whose desires run from the conventional to the most obscure. You’ll find it all under one roof.

Add Hiller’s to your list of Very Important Places.

Welcome to the way it should be.

Not a bad description, is it? And Jim Hiller isn't afraid to infuse his personality into the operation of the stores, which is another aspect of independent food retailing that's interesting -- the ability to personalize the business, putting a local face on the stores.

Hiller's also does what the most successful independent grocers do best -- adapt to the times. The eight-store independent is doing just that in economically-challenged Michigan. Among the things its doing are slashing prices on nearly every item in its stores from 10% -to- 60%, having met with every one if its 1,000-plus vendors and negotiated special pricing deals which the grocer is passing on to customers dollar-for-dollar in its stores.

Hiller's also is putting an greater emphasis on buying and selling Michigan-made products, offering what is the most extensive selection of local food and grocery products in the state.

Erica Finley, a writer for the Oakland Business Review in Oakland County, Michigan has a profile of Jim Hiller and Hiller's Markets in yesterday's online edition of the publication. In her piece she interviews Jim Hiller and lets him describe his business philosophy and what the optimistic, aggressive but yet humble independent grocer is doing to survive and even thrive in the current economic recession, which is hitting his customers in the Metro Detroit region, where the Hiller's stores are located, just about as hard as people can be hit by a severe economic downturn.

Below is the profile by Erica Finley from the Oakland Business Review:

Jim Hiller, CEO of Hiller's Markets, talks about commitment to customers, community
by Erica Finley Oakland Business Review
December 22, 2008

His family's grocery store chain was just named Independent Retailer of the Year by Grocery Headquarters Magazine. He's slashing prices in his stores but maintaining the quality of the products in the worst economic environment in many years, and he's committed to giving back to the local community.

Click here to read the entire profile piece.

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