BRENTWOOD, N.Y. -- William Lukeman, owner of a 20,000-square-foot IGA supermarket here, has gone beyond earning a nearly perfect score (99%) on IGA's operational assessment rating, one of the highest grades of any retailer since the assessment program was first initiated six years ago.
Three years ago, Lukeman, now 41, invested in a failing grocery store that sorely needed remodeling. Working in conjunction with his distributor, Bozzuto's, Cheshire, Conn., Lukeman upgraded the store, relocated departments, and invested in new technology. New systems and equipment included Catalina couponing, front-end NCR scanning, Concord electronic-fund transfer, refrigeration compressor, lighting and security surveillance.
Lukeman declined to give the cost of the store investment and upgrade except to say he borrowed heavily and expects it will take six years to pay off his loans.
He also declined to give annual sales figures. One source said Lukeman has more than doubled sales over the previous owner and estimated annual volume at $6 million.
The Brentwood IGA is situated in an ethnically diverse neighborhood in the heart of Long Island, 50 miles east of New York City. The store draws about 18,000 shoppers per week. Half of Lukeman's customers are Hispanics from Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Argentina, Columbia, Mexico and Peru.
Lukeman, who started working as a cart boy for King Kullen Grocery Co., Bethpage, N.Y., said he used the knowledge he gained over the years working for other metropolitan-area food retailers in how to best target Hispanics. He devoted two full sides of an aisle to country-of-origin Hispanic products, both dry grocery and fresh produce. Besides carrying popular brands such as Goya, Iberia and La Cenna, Lukeman sourced hard-to-find brands that were well recognized by South Americans from several companies that had not done business on Long Island before.
The formula to Lukeman's success, he said, is his ability to get whatever the customer requests. "If a customer requests an item and wants it, I'll research it and find where it is and bring it in. The next week when the customer comes in and sees the item available, he says, 'This is my IGA."'
Known in the community as "Mr. IGA," Lukeman said the high recognition of the IGA name has helped him market to Hispanics and non-Hispanics. "IGA is the world's first supermarket. My customers have a high recognition of the name and the quality behind the IGA store."
He promotes the IGA name and displays the IGA and Hometown Proud logos throughout the store.
Lukeman also credits Bozzutto's for helping him double his sales and become a viable retailer in the community. "Bozzutto's is important in making the store what it is today because of their programs," he said.
The grocery wholesaler also supports IGA programs and IGA's Red Oval partners, noted Lukeman, who runs many IGA-sponsored events like Hometown Holidays, Hometown Proud, Worldwide Anniversary Sale and KidsFest.
"These programs are well thought-out, explored and test-marketed. They help us increase our store volume," Lukeman said.
Within a three-mile market radius, Lukeman faces off with five chains and six large independents. Among the chains are Pathmark, Waldbaum's (A&P), ShopRite, Stop & Shop and King Kullen.
A Bravo Supermarket is Lukeman's newest competitor. He believes Bravo copied some of the elements in his store. "I just persevered," he said. "I knew the competition was coming, so a changed my store. I added more signage, lighting, redid the endcaps and added new equipment." The additions include a self-service cheese counter and chicken rotisserie.
Lukeman said he is continually challenged on how to improve his store. Last year, he moved his office out of the store, which added more room for refrigeration, produce and deli. This year, he is contemplating a cold beer offering and merchandising low-carb products.