TORONTO -- Independent retailers in British Columbia are leading the rest of Canada, according to the results of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers annual awards.
British Columbia retailers took home the gold-level Independent Grocer of the Year Award in four out of five categories, besting last year's awards in which three out of five winners hailed from that province. The awards, presented at Grocery Innovations Canada 2005 here last month, are given for silver and bronze levels in each category as well. "Entrepreneurship in British Columbia is absolutely exceptional," said John Scott, president of CFIG. "Shopping independents in British Columbia is a feast; it's delightful." Pepper's Foods, Victoria, British Columbia, won the gold award for the second year in a row for the Small Surface Category with 4,000 square feet of selling space, after taking silver and bronze awards in previous years. John Davits, the owner/operator of the store, credits the friendly staff and good customer service for the honor. "Our motto is, 'If you want it, and we can get it, you got it,"' he said. "We bring in what the customer wants, not what sells the most."
Pepper's offers a centralized chalkboard where customers can request items each week not currently available in the store, and each request is acted upon and answered the following week, either by indicating where the item is in the store, the shipping status if it is coming, or an explanation of why the store can't get the item. The retailer is currently making plans for a separate bakery department.
Another second-year gold victor, Stong's Markets, Vancouver, British Columbia, won in the Medium Surface Category, with 10,000 square feet of selling space. After four generations of the family-run business, "our customers are part of our family and it really shows," said Cori Bonina, president of Stong's Markets.
Stong's is known among its customers as being the store that "if you can't find it anywhere else, you can find it here," Bonina said. If customers request a product that they can't find in the store, Stong's will do whatever possible to make it available. Stong's features a new free valet parking service, and also a recently added wellness center. The store is changing point-of-sale and front-end system software that will make checking out faster and can gather more information.
"Our customers tell us what they want," Bonina said, "and we have to [adapt] to change as fast as they tell us."
Ken Schley, president of Quality Foods -- whose newest and largest store, 35,000-square-foot Qualicum Foods, Qualicum Beach, British Columbia, took home the gold award in the Large Surface Category -- is no stranger to the CFIG awards program. Six of the company's nine stores, all in British Columbia, have won awards in the past, but the company doesn't take each one for granted. According to Schley, winning the award is the "bonus part of building a store like we do. It solidifies our thought process [in the beginning], because a lot of what we try is for the first time," he said. Quality Foods tries out new store concepts with little or nothing to copy from, and each store that opens offers new and larger departments.
The three-story Qualicum Foods store, just two years old, has a "sort of departmentalized look to it," Schley explained. "There is a lot of theater; we take the perimeter of the store and bring it out into the store front."
All of the departments, which include a restaurant, fresh sushi counter, a 240-foot deli and an outdoor ice cream kiosk, among others, are in separate areas of the store. The mezzanine floor houses a high-end kitchenware department and a Starbucks counter. Quality is making plans to build another store in North Cowichan, about 60 miles north of Qualicum Beach.
The 2005 Arnold Rands Heritage Award was presented to Askew's Foods in Salmon Arm, British Columbia, for the best multi-generational grocery store. Askew's has been passed through three generations since opening in 1929, and has since added two other stores in Armstrong and Sicamous, both in British Columbia.
According to Karen Angove, general manager and part-owner of Askew's, the success of the 16,000-square-foot Salmon Arm store stems from the family's long history and their strong contributions to the community, which has attracted loyal customers from all over the community. "We can't afford to not cater to one segment or another because the town is not that big," Angove said. "We just try to provide people with what they want and with great customer service."
The company has recently purchased more property in Salmon Arm, and though plans have not been finalized, a new store is a possibility.
"These entrepreneurs would do well anywhere," said Scott of CFIG. "They have really gone above and beyond. Their attention to detail is incredible, and their willingness to service customers is unsurpassed."
Hundreds of retailers voluntarily register for CFIG's program each year, and independent adjudicators evaluate the stores from a customer's perspective. Retailers must register by February, and judging takes place from March through August. This year marks the first time in the history of the competition that two retailers have won gold awards back to back.
Pete's Frootique in Bedford, Nova Scotia, also took home an Independent Grocer of the Year Award for Best Specialty Store.