PITTSBURGH -- If anyone appreciates the hand-in-hand relationship shared by retailers and manufacturers, it's Laura Karet.
The executive vice president of sales at Giant Eagle here, Karet spent much of her career in the CPG industry -- at Procter & Gamble and Sara Lee -- before being recruited back to work for the 223-store chain, which is partially owned by her family, five years ago.
"Both Procter & Gamble and Sara Lee are wonderful training companies," she told SN. "Procter in particular really teaches you to take a very strategic approach to the business. You have to understand your customers, their wants and needs, and that philosophy is applicable both on the CPG side and on the retail side."
Despite her pedigree as a fourth-generation supermarket executive (Karet's father, David Shapira, is chairman and chief executive officer of Giant Eagle), Karet said she always envisioned establishing a career outside the family business. Joining Giant Eagle, she said, "was a wonderful career opportunity at the time."
After coming aboard as vice president of marketing, Karet quickly moved up to become senior vice president of retail operations before her promotion last month to her current post.
She said her background in the competitive world of CPG marketing prepared her well for her current role.
"I think in this business you need to have a very healthy balance between the strategic framework of decision-making against a really strong street-fighter mentality," she said.
Although she declined to discuss details, one of the projects Karet said she is most proud of from her years at Giant Eagle was a restructuring of the chain's regional operations. "We looked at the functions of the regional managers, how many stores they manage, the layers [and] the reporting structure, and we changed a lot of those things," she said. "I think it's made the stores much more effective in being able to communicate with one another, as well as execute our business plans."
Making sure the right people are in place is one of the keys to being successful in any organization, Karet said.
"For me, people come first," she said. "They are the lifeblood of this business. At the corporate level, and at the store level, you have to surround yourself with the right talent to have any hope of trying to achieve your goals."
She described people development as "one of the strategic planks" at Giant Eagle.
"We believe in coaching people and giving them the right opportunities, and in giving them feedback so they know what they have to work on," she said.
Although she no longer oversees store operations directly -- her new responsibilities include overseeing buying, category management, pricing and promotions, store formats and "everything that relates to how we go to market" -- she expects to continue spending a lot of time in the stores.
"At the end of the day, it all comes down to what happens at the store level," she said. "When you are in the supermarket business, you have to stay close to the stores."
Karet has taken on her new role at a time when the company is evolving how it goes to market.
Late last year, Giant Eagle implemented a new pricing scheme to make it more competitive. The company also recently established a joint venture to open GetGo convenience stores and expand the company's fuel service.
In addition, Giant Eagle has been expanding into new markets in recent years with its development of the Columbus, Ohio, market and its first forays into Toledo, Ohio, and Frederick, Md.
Karet is poised to help steer the chain through its latest challenges. Although one recruiter recently told SN that CPG industry veterans often end up unhappy in the world of retail, that does not appear to be the case with Karet.
"Supermarket retailing tends to get in your blood," she said.
Executive VP, sales, Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh
Professional background: Before joining Giant Eagle as vice president of marketing, Karet held brand management positions at Procter & Gamble from 1990 to 1997, and executive marketing posts at Sara Lee from 1997 to 2000. Among the products she worked on were Crisco shortening, Folgers coffee, Giorgio fragrances and Secret deodorant. Along the way, Karet was named one of Advertising Age's Top 100 Marketers in 1999.
College: Amherst College graduate.
Family: Married, with one son.
Career mentors: "I've had some really wonderful mentors, and my father is clearly one of those people. He's a terrific coach and has been a guiding force for me. My mother is also a big guiding force, even though she just passed away. She always brought a healthy dose of reality to what I was doing." Kaplan also cited several of the executives she worked for at Giant Eagle, Sara Lee and P&G, including Beth Kaplan and Jim Stengel at P&G, and Greg Shearson and Ed Haft at Sara Lee.