THIBODAUX, La. -- Rouses is Louisiana.
The retailer lives, breathes, eats, cooks, buys and supplies everything the crawfish capital of the world provides. And it's worked since 1960 when Anthony Rouse and his cousin, Ciro DeMarco, opened the 7,000-square-foot Ciro's Supermarket in Houma (see related story on Rouses in Fresh Market, page 54).
A second store was opened in 1975 bearing the name Rouses. DeMarco retired in 1976 and sold his share to Anthony's son Donald, who runs the chain today.
"I think we've been successful in Louisiana because we are the supermarkets born in Louisiana," said Donald Rouse, president of the 15-store chain. "We know what people in Louisiana want to eat, and that's our theme. We are Louisiana, we're part of Louisiana, and we know how to serve people."
With the opening earlier this year of a new 52,000-square-foot unit in Covington, Rouses Markets continues to read the pulse of local customers and distinguish itself from its competition.
The new generation of Rouses, which includes Donald's brother Tommy as chief financial officer, now has stores in Metairie, Houma, Thibodaux, Morgan City, Raceland, Lockport, Larose and White Castle.
"Our business has continued to grow over the past few years because we try and do a better job, and we try and outperform and provide a service that is next to none," said Rouse.
While Rouses has grown, it hasn't been easy, admitted Rouse, who has witnessed changes in market competition. Within the last decade, Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark., opened supercenters within a quarter mile of six of his stores. Other competition includes Albertsons, Boise, Idaho; Winn-Dixie, Jacksonville, Fla.; and Save-A-Center, which is operated by A&P, Montvale, N.J.
Joseph Campbell Jr., president and chief executive officer, Associated Grocers, Baton Rouge, La., said Rouses' selling point has continually been its commitment to the customers' unique needs in the region. "They don't have a cookie-cutter approach, and they satisfy the needs of the various communities in which they serve. They do an extraordinary job in perishables. Their variety and assortment of produce and meats are outstanding. They offer exciting cooked food, deli and bakery. And, for a supermarket, they have one of the finest wine and liquor selections you'll find anywhere," said Campbell.
The chain cooks and prepares traditional Louisiana cuisine -- gumbo, jambalaya, corn stews, hogshead cheese and sausage -- all in-store. Rouses is also famous for its boiled crawfish and shrimp, both bought locally. Buying fresh and making it in-store is a tradition ingrained in the Rouses' mentality.
"It's been going on for 10 years. Back in Houma, where we have a 73,000-square-foot store, we began putting in the sausage kitchen and the smokehouse and developing the Foods-to-Go part of the store, and we've just been building on it since," explained Rouse.
Rouses not only makes its own food; the chain also buys most of it locally. Its main supplier of produce is Associated Grocers of Baton Rouge, though the company will occasionally source out of California and Florida if necessary.
Buying locally is part of what distinguishes Rouses from the bigger chains. Cut fruit, fresh salsa, fruit salads, as well as "tree-ripened fruit" give Rouses a reputation for higher quality and better service. The retailer also is expanding its organic selection, according to Rouse.
The $6 million Covington location, opened earlier this year, brings Rouses to the North Shore section of Louisiana off Lake Pontchartrain, in a former Delchamps store. This site is in an upscale community that allows Rouses to expand its Epicurean format launched a few years ago. Typically, Epicurean stores offer the average supermarket fare, as well as a wide selection of new, upscale foods and beverages, including a variety of wines. "The demographics for this type of store are perfect for an offshore store location like this," said Rouse. The difference in northern Louisiana culture and tastes has not proved to be a problem for the location so far.
"There has been very strong business since the opening," said Rouse. "Opening week had $800,000 in sales. That's a little above average for us. It has continued very strong since the opening."
The Covington location fits right into the buy-fresh, cook-fresh tradition. The Epicurean format offers a wide range of products -- 2,700 varieties of wine, 400 varieties of produce, a sandwich shop, eight varieties of fresh sausage made in-store, a smokehouse, a sit-down cafe, a deli, a Foods-to-Go section, a fire rotisserie, a flower shop, and of course, boiled seafood.
The new location also has all the favorites loyal customers enjoy at the other locations, including boudin, a Cajun sausage made with pork, rice, seasonings, and chicken gizzards and livers; and turducken, a boneless turkey stuffed with a boneless duck stuffed with a boneless chicken.
Prepared foods take a front seat in the new store, with a deli that prepares hot plate lunches, and the Foods-to-Go section, where different types of salads and soups like gumbo and jambalaya are packed ready to eat in pints and quarts. Rouses also will continue its barbecue ribs programs on Fridays. Full Slab Fridays bring a barbecue trailer to the front of the store and sell slabs of ribs for $4.99 from 4 to 7 p.m.
"It has a broad selection of items throughout the various departments," said Campbell about the Covington store. "It's a clean, bright, uplifting environment to shop in. It's competitively priced where customers can get value every day."
Locals aren't the only ones enjoying the variety that Rouses provides. "There are a lot of tourists that come through this area, that do the swamp tours," noted Rouse.
Looking ahead, Rouses plans to continue to expand its Epicurean markets business, as well as shoot off into other venues. The retailer is currently experimenting with a limited-assortment store, Barney's Bargains, a 15,000-square-foot unit in southern Louisiana. Rouses is also looking into another site near the Covington store to further expand its northern roots.
uying local and staying local will remain the backbone of Rouses' business. Growth will continue by "outperforming in service, outperforming in quality, [and] outperforming in variety," said Rouse. "We just do an overall better job. That's how we've continued to grow our business."