Viewpoints

Ukrop Brothers Became Modern Day Retail Pioneers

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Here's a unique thing about our annual SN Hall of Fame Awards, spotlighted in this week's issue. Those people chosen don't need to run the largest companies or even be among the industry's most powerful people.

For proof of that, consider Robert and James Ukrop, the long-time leadership duo at Ukrop's Super Markets, based in Richmond, Va., who jointly enter the Hall of Fame this year. Neither has appeared on SN's Power 50 most influential people list, and their relatively small company has never landed on our Top 75 largest firms roster.

No matter. These executives deserve to be in SN's Hall, which honors career-wide extraordinary and lasting impact on the food distribution industry.

Why were the Ukrops chosen at this point, not long after reports surfaced that the company was seeking to sell the chain? (Ukrop's has declined to confirm those reports.) It's simple: the Hall is relatively new — only three years old — and the Ukrops are so deserving that it made sense to include them sooner rather than later.

They are joined this year by two other worthy inductees: John Mackey, the often controversial co-founder and chief executive of Whole Foods Market, and the late Michael J. Cullen, founder of King Kullen Grocery Co., whose inaugural store in 1930 is widely considered the first modern American supermarket.

You can see the identities of all our previous inductees here in our Hall of Fame introduction.

What makes Bobby and Jim Ukrop ideal for this award? They are pioneers who helped lead the industry down numerous paths. They fostered a culture that has long made Ukrop's a model for outstanding customer service. The chain's early embrace of loyalty cards and its trail-blazing work in meal solutions — supported by a central commissary strategy — had much influence on other food retailers. Ukrop's has been on the leading edge of health and wellness marketing. And its unique take on one-stop shopping enabled it to make early gains in banking and other areas.

Behind all of this were two brothers, sons of the founders, whose different personalities and skills meshed remarkably well. Noted Neil Stern, senior partner, McMillan Doolittle: “It is really a combination of Jim's business vision and Bobby's incredible energy, salesmanship and passion.”

I first got to know these brothers in the early 1990s when I visited Ukrop's to research a profile story on the retailer. Bobby and Jim took me on a colorful and sometimes quirky tour of Richmond and their stores. I saw many retail innovations that would only later become more widespread in the industry, especially on the meal solutions front.

In the long run, consumers and retailers are the winners from these efforts, even if the actual contributions of Bobby and Jim aren't known by every one of them. But then, one never got the feeling that these two brothers were looking for credit.

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Contributors

Julie Gallagher

Julie Gallagher’s delicious foray into coverage of the food industry was purely accidental. With a background in technology, she joined Supermarket News as associate editor of its Technology...

Mark Hamstra

Mark Hamstra is the editor of the Retail/Financial section of Supermarket News covering mergers and acquisitions, quarterly earnings reports, executive changes and other significant events and trends...
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