COEBURN, Va. -- Alan Atwood is committed to Coeburn. That's evident not just because this town is the headquarters of his family's three-store supermarket business, but because of the support he lends this community and others. That's why Atwood, general manager of the Payless IGA store here, was recognized as a 2005 IGA International Retailer of the Year.
Atwood's grandfather, Joe Atwood Sr., founded Payless Supermarkets in 1948. At age 16, Atwood began bagging groceries at that supermarket. He remained in the family business and is now, at age 34, vice president of the store group. His father, J.B. Atwood Jr., is president. His mother, Freda Atwood, is secretary and treasurer.
Community involvement is a top priority at Payless. Atwood encourages his employees to give back in various ways. One such effort is their joining with the Mountain Empire Older Citizens organization for its Senior Citizens Day. Payless donates money to an emergency fuel fund, feeds up to 1,500 elderly people, and sponsors a senior citizens' beauty pageant and other events throughout the day.
The young benefit from Payless' volunteer activities, too. The company has a Kids Day at the Virginia-Kentucky District Fair. Store employees and vendors assemble goody bags for the children, and pass out samples of ice cream and soda. Area college students are a focus when Payless holds University of Virginia at Wise Day. A percentage of the day's profits are given to the university's general fund. The amount sometimes reaches $5,000.
"Anything and everything IGA brings to us, we try to support and push because it's only going to help," Atwood told SN. He tagged the IGA name onto each of his Payless Supermarkets in October 1995, when the company began working with wholesaler Merchants Distributors Inc. The three Payless IGA stores are here, in Wise, Va., and Appalachia, Va.
Atwood estimated that 15,000 customers enter a Payless IGA each week. Once inside, they are promised a full-service shopping experience. Employees will assist a customer in any department, bag groceries at the point of sale and take bags to shoppers' cars.
"We do our best to take care of every customer," Atwood said.
If caring for a customer means offering more services, the Atwood family can now add fuel-station services to the list of offers at the 22,000-square-foot Payless here.
Atwood also accepted the challenges of selling fuel in a bid to increase store traffic. The Atwoods formed a partnership with Mansfield Oil in Gainesville, Ga., and opened the fuel station in December 2004. If all goes well, fuel stations may be added to the other Payless IGA units, too.
"It's a traffic creator," Atwood said. "If you can increase your store sales and get your customer count up, you can make money within the four walls of your store."
Surrounded by Wal-Mart, Food Lion, Food City and Peebles stores, Atwood said he believes IGA and wholesaler MDI help him maintain a competitive edge. "We're only as good as those two are. Naturally, they have to have their ducks in a row, then they kind of throw it to us and let us do our thing at retail."
The hours in retailing can be long, Atwood acknowledged, but he said he remained with the business because of the people with whom he gets to work. "You get to meet a lot of good people. I have relationships with people because of the grocery business all across the country now. That's probably the neatest part of it."