SALT LAKE CITY -- Associated Food Stores here is intent on developing programs at its 23 corporate stores that can be expanded to its general membership, Dick King, newly named director of retail operations for the member-owned cooperative, told SN last week.
Although King said his precise title is likely to change in the next few days, his goals will remain twofold -- to improve sales and profitability at the corporate stores and reinvest that money in expanding and remodeling existing stores; and to use those stores as laboratories for implementing new ideas whose specific results can be shared with other Associated members.
"The company has been doing some of that in the past, but we intend to encourage it more," King told SN. "We want to make sure the tools are there at the corporate stores so our members can come in and see some of the new things we'll be doing.
"If we come up with good programs at the corporate stores, then we'll encourage other members to take them on by sharing information with them. But we won't try to interfere with their autonomy."
King said Associated also hopes to develop more uniformity among its corporate stores regarding display techniques and weekly promotional items -- "backstage programs that are transparent to customers," he explained, "and which leave the stores plenty of room to retain their own autonomy."
While he declined to pinpoint the corporate stores' current sales, he did discuss some of the ideas the company hopes to implement, starting with a review of item selection, with plans for a greater emphasis on private-label merchandising, health-oriented products, natural and organic foods, and specialty foods, he said.
King, 54, joined Associated Food Stores earlier this month after a 36-year career with Albertsons, Boise, Idaho, that ended in 1999 with his resignation as president and chief operating officer. For the last few years, he has been a consultant for Encore Associates, San Ramon, Calif., working primarily with Kmart Corp. on its Super Kmart Centers.
He's been a member of Associated's board of directors for the past two years, and began doing some consulting work for the chain earlier this year that ultimately led to his decision to join the company on a full-time basis, he said.
"I had been talking with the company on a consulting basis about implementing programs to improve operations at some of the corporate-owned stores," King explained. "But I like to be hands-on and in control, and I felt it would be better for me to be part of the company and in charge of what it was doing rather than standing back and directing the programs Associated would be implementing."
King formally joined Associated two weeks ago, succeeding Brian Duff as director of retail operations while Duff moved to oversee procurement and marketing for the company.
Associated's 23 corporate stores consist of four store groups that have been acquired over the past few years: Macey's, with 10 stores in northern Utah; Dan's Markets, with six stores here; Lin's Markets, with five stores in southern Utah; and Dick's Markets, with two stores here. All are conventional operations except Macey's, which operates warehouse stores.
"Since Associated began acquiring retail stores, it's tried to get backstage programs in line at all corporate stores, but it's been kind of hit-and-miss," King said. "Now we want to streamline the organization so we can develop programs and ideas with clear results that we can share with independent members."
As the company reviews the item selection at the 23 stores, "we want to fine-tune all the things we're doing today," King said. One specific target, he said, involves putting more emphasis on the Western Family private-label line -- "to showcase it more, although not to the detriment of national brands," he explained.
He said he also hopes to review the item counts in the stores' produce sections and to expand selections of health-oriented foods that appeal to aging baby boomers, including more dietetic and low-sugar items; install more varieties of natural and organic foods; and boost the variety of speciality foods -- "not just upscale lines, but Hispanic and other ethnic varieties," he explained.
"What we plan to do is go through each department in the stores to make sure we have the right mix of products and the right items on display and that we're current on trends in all departments," King said.
King said the changes will be subtle over the next six months or so, "and any changes will be gradual."
However, some new thinking may go into remodeled units, King said. For example, he expects some new ideas to be incorporated into a replacement Macey's store that is scheduled to open late next month in the Provo area. "We're looking at trying some new ideas there to improve the store's local market flavor," he explained.
As some of the smaller conventional stores are remodeled, they will probably add more space for frozen foods and, in some cases, dairy, King added.