Why Big Y? It's the formation of an intersection of two converging roads in Chicopee, Mass., where Big Y began in 1936 when the late Paul D'Amour, a Wonder Bread route salesman, purchased his first store, the 900-square-foot Y Cash Market. The Big was added to the letter Y in 1952 when the D'Amour family opened its third store, a 10,000-square-foot modern supermarket in Chicopee.
Big Y Foods was incorporated in 1947, and run by Paul with his brother Gerald, a co-founder, and other family members.
In 1960, the company opened a 31,000-square-foot store in Northhampton, Mass., which at the time was the largest supermarket in the region, and the company quickly became the No. 1 retailer in the area.
The D'Amour family diversified into alcoholic beverages in 1963 with Big Y Wines and Liquors, later to be called Table & Vine. In 2002, the company acquired the assets of Town & Country Liquors.
The retailer arrived in Springfield, Mass., now its home base, in 1967. A year later, with six locations it acquired seven Jumbo Supermarkets. It went on in 1972 to purchase two Popular Supermarkets, extending its reach in Springfield. The company crossed state lines into Stafford Springs, Conn., in 1984, and that same year purchased the former Adams Supermarket chain in Berkshire County, Mass. By 1986, Big Y was ranked No. 1 in western Massachusetts with 21 stores and 1,600 employees.
In the early '90s, the company expanded into Worcester, Mass., and opened its first 64,000-square-foot World Class Market in 1993 in Springfield. The next year, it expanded into Fairfield County, Conn., with its World Class format in Monroe.
By the time Big Y reached its 60th anniversary in 1996, the retailer acquired five former Edwards Supermarkets, four units in Connecticut and one store in Chicopee. During the decade, Big Y continued to expand in Connecticut.
The company added its first pharmacy in 2001. Big Y bought four former A&P Super Food Mart stores in 2003, and turned them into World Class markets. That same year, Big Y ventured into the highly competitive eastern Massachusetts area in Walpole with a new store.
During the last several years, Big Y has been investing in ground-up $10 million-$15 million stores that are often the anchor in shopping plazas. It opened its first natural-organic food concept, Fresh Acres, on Oct. 19. The chain consists of 56 stores, and employs over 9,000 people. The company is ranked No. 62 on SN's Top 75 Retailer list with $1.2 billion in sales as of July 3, 2005. Big Y is run by second- and third-generation family members. Donald H. D'Amour is chief executive officer, and his cousin, Charles D'Amour, added president to his chief operating officer title earlier this year.
Big Y has become known as an industry innovator with a keen focus on the community, especially when it comes to educational support. In the '90s, it introduced Education Express, tied to its Express Savings Club, that allows schools to gain points for equipment. Well over $10 million has been awarded to schools since the inception of the program in 1993. That same year, Big Y established its Homework Helpline to offer free tutoring to students in kindergarten through grade 12. The helpline guides nearly 10,000 students through homework problems each year, according to Big Y.
Among its many innovative retailing concepts, Big Y Express Saving Club and its rewards program at checkout have gained national attention and praise. Launched in 1990, the Express Savings Club eliminated in-store paper coupons. It gave shoppers instant savings on hundred of items each week.
An adjunct to the club card came in an interactive computerized register system with a touchscreen in 2001. The system allows shoppers to learn more about Big Y, and offers them a chance to win a token with a set dollar amount redeemable for store merchandise. Shoppers can play a slot machine-type game as they check out to win a token, or they can be awarded by the cashier who receives a notice on the computer to reward the customer. This is all controlled by careful analysis of shopper data and designed to reward Big Y's most loyal customers.
Frank Murphy, finance director for Superquinn in Ireland, who has sat in share groups with Big Y, said the rewards program at checkout is top-end and one of the best he has seen from any retailer.
Glenn Hausfater, managing director, Partners In Loyalty Marketing, Chicago, Ill., said, "It's like a rebate program but it also surprises and delights customers."