Mike Provenzano Sr. seems to be living a fairy-tale existence.
It all stems from his decision about a decade ago to transform his one-unit, Southern California supermarket business into a Hispanic operation. That move turned a problematic format into a magic-growth vehicle now encompassing eight units in California and Arizona primarily operating under the Ranch Market banner. Mike's four sons are also part of the business.
Now Mike, president and chief executive of Pro & Sons, Ontario, Calif., is willing to share stories of how he manages to live happily ever after.
He had worked in the supermarket industry since the 1960s, but it wasn't until the early 1990s when he decided to embrace Hispanic merchandising. It wasn't hard for Mike to recognize the signs of success that eventually came. The banks switched to being fully behind him. An Arizona Republic food reporter recently wrote a story that called his operation a Disneyland for Mexican food junkies. Mike's retail business even landed on a list of local tourist attractions.
At a time when independents need to differentiate their operations and are struggling with competition from Wal-Mart, it's important to understand how Mike succeeded in transforming his business and how he continues to generate growth and positive reactions. An SN article from 2002 profiled the evolution of Pro & Sons' format and its growth plans. At a recent trade show, Mike highlighted some of his core success strategies:
It all starts by figuring out what's important to the Hispanic consumer, he said. "We do a lot of research, more than the average retail operation."
Make a full commitment:
"Without that commitment, you'll end up as just another grocery store that only half-heartedly serves the consumer."
Mike created a home-away-from-home atmosphere. "We want to make the customer feel they are in Mexico with products, music, decor and signage."
Don't be intimidated:
"My partners and I are all Italian, and none of us speaks Spanish," he said. Nevertheless, the retailer did its homework to create a panaderia, tortilleria, carniceria, cremeria, fresh juice section and plenty of other in-store features that won over Hispanic consumers.
Shoppers don't go wanting for the personal touch at Ranch Market. The retailer employs 300 to 500 employees per unit, many of them bilingual.
Emulate the efficiencies of large chains:
"We like to function like the big guys," he said. "That means, for example, doing schematics."
Become a community player:
Each of Mike's stores hires employees from the local areas. The company offers free English classes for employees, their family members, and members of the community. The stores even have free shuttle bus service for loyal shoppers, many of whom don't have cars.
Coexist with the giant from Bentonville:
Mike's business continues to grow in its markets despite the presence of Wal-Mart. That's because it owns a niche that even the big bad wolf hasn't been able to attack.