PENNINGTON, N.J. — Pennington Quality Market, an upscale, single-unit supermarket here, has seized opportunity after opportunity to grow its perishables departments.
As the family-owned business turned those opportunities into realities, it boosted its image as well as to its top and bottom lines, Michael Rothwell, company vice president, told SN.
The ventures include taking over a floral shop next door, hiring a former restaurant owner to create unique soups that have added pizzazz and sales to deli and catering, and more recently supplying a newly built community hospital’s bistro with fresh, prepared food.
“Our deli prepared food and our catering operation give us a lot of exposure in the community,” Rothwell said. Executive Chef Mark Smith (pictured above) heads up the store's thriving prepared food operation.
“We have customers standing in front of our chef’s case, calling home on their cell phones, to describe what we have that day. They’re making tonight’s meal decisions right there.”
Herb crusted roast pork loin and chicken cordon bleu are on the menu; so is simpler fare such as meatloaf.
Describing the deli, Rothwell pointed out that PQM — as the company is known in the community — has been honored by supplier Boar’s Head Provisions. Its deli was named a Boar’s Head Deli of Distinction.
“That’s not an easy honor to get. We were recognized because of our sales, the quality standards that we follow on a daily basis and the promotions we run with the help of our Boar’s Head representative,” Rothwell said.
He spoke with pride as well about PQM’s soup program.
“About five years ago, we hired Patty Phillips (left), who had owned a restaurant in town called Soupe du Jour.”
When Phillips, whose soups were revered in the community, decided to close her restaurant, Rothwell wasted no time in hiring her. He also kept the soup brand alive.
“Patty had a large following, and her former customers started coming to us to buy her soups because we made it known she was here, making her own soups every day.”
Customers can choose from five from-scratch soups daily — often including Patty’s best sellers tomato Brie, Hungarian mushroom and chicken vegetable. “People order gallons of Patty’s soup from our catering department,” Rothwell said.
The company does full-service, offsite catering, and can even supply the flowers and centerpieces thanks to having acquired a florist shop right in the same shopping center.
When it went up for sale, it just happened that Rothwell’s sister, Barbara, and her husband, had just moved back east from the Midwest.
“We took over the shop, and Barbara has been running it successfully ever since. We have all the wire services and we employ full-time floral designers. This year’s Valentine’s Day was one or our best. We made 500 deliveries in two days,” Rothwell said.
In 2007, the family remodeled its 40,000-square-foot store here to make more space for perishables.
“Much of the renovation had to do with adding and upgrading refrigeration in all those departments. We achieved operational cost efficiencies and we created more flexibility for display merchandising,” Rothwell said.
That the company is family owned — and by a family that has always been active in the community — helps seal customer loyalty.
Just last weekend, PQM hosted a promotional fund-raising event donating 5% of its Saturday sales in support of sports field improvements at the local high school.
“We’ll do the same — donate 5% of a day’s sales on Cancer Day in support of our local chapter of the American Cancer Society. We’ve been doing that for the last 17 years, and in that time, we’ve raised $192,000,” Rothwell said.
“When we started the cancer fund raising, it was at a time my mom was fighting a courageous battle against breast cancer — a battle that she unfortunately lost. This fund-raising event continues to be very important to us because of my mom and because so many of our customers and associates have experienced a fight against cancer with family and friends.”
Rothwell and his father, Larry Rothwell, who’s semi-retired, and still president of the company, sit on the board of several charities, and are active in community organizations.
Indeed, the Rothwells are so well known in the community that it probably was a no-brainer for the planners of a new, huge hospital complex in nearby Hopewell Township, to think of Pennington Quality Market when they looked for a supplier of prepared food for a bistro planned for the first floor of the hospital.
“The bistro opened last fall and we’ve been supplying sandwiches and soups, even dinner entrees, on a daily basis,” Rothwell said.
Customers are aware that the food is made fresh daily at Pennington Quality Market because signs on the wall, table tents, and package stickers tell them so.
The bistro, only open a few months, is doing well, but the best is yet to come.
“There’s a lot of potential because there’s still a wing of the building that will be filled with doctor’s offices and out-patient facilities. People visiting patients or doctors’ offices are apt to eat there. And think of the pharmaceutical representatives that’ll be around,” Rothwell said.
He sees PQM’s presence at the hospital complex garnering future business for Catered Cuisine.
“There will be business meetings and other get-togethers and our name — and our product — are right there.”
The Rothwells’ business has been built little by little since Larry Rothwell bought the store here from its former owners in 1981. At that time, the flagship department was the fresh meat department and it is still a standout.
“We sell premium meat, USDA choice and Certified Angus, and we have four talented meat cutters on staff who will custom cut anything.”
Constant attention to customer service in all departments is a major factor enabling PQM to thrive in the midst of tremendous competition from big chains and other strong independents, Rothwell explained.
Rothwell is chairman of the Retail Marketing Group, Horsham, Pa., a group of independent grocers. RMG can negotiate deals with suppliers that an independent alone couldn’t manage. But still, in a marketplace rife with large chains and all kinds of stores selling food, an independent must have a definite point of differentiation. One such point, Rothwell believes, is Pennington Quality Market’s customer service.
“I tell our associates we might not always be able to beat the competition on price, but there’s absolutely no reason for anyone to beat us on service. We’re here for our customers.”