The economy in the Pacific Northwest has taken its biggest hit in the area of housing, which has hurt the store in St. Maries more than in Pullman, where the student population keeps sales going, he explained.
“People in St. Maries are still struggling because there’s been very little new construction in the region. As a result, we see customers trading down to private level. IGA has a strong private-label brand, so we’re fine in that area.
“But we also see customers no longer buying ahead on sales, though we cleaned up well during the holiday season, which tells us customers are looking at doing nice things for family occasions.”
He said the store has also seen an increase in sales of high-end wines. “It used to be the low-end wines that were selling, but in the last couple of years we’re seeing high-end wines selling better — apparently because people are eating at home more rather than going out to restaurants or entertaining more at home and they want to treat themselves and their guests to better wines.”
One area in which McGregor believes his two stores are improving is in their use of technology.
For example, the company installed an accounting system in January from Financial Management Services “because we felt it would help us determine what our labor costs should be vs. our peer group and what kinds of sales and profits we should be getting in individual departments,” he explained.
The stores have also installed Revionics to do price monitoring and also to keep track of product movement vs. movement among competitors, “and it helps us keep our gross margins in line by category,” he added.
McGregor said he is also utilizing training programs available through IGA’s Coca-Cola Institute. “Those programs help employees who may not have sufficient expertise to answer customer questions, whereas after they’ve finished the courses, they are able to provide detailed information.
“So the training not only gives employees more confidence, which contributes to their longevity with us, but it also builds a better relationship between employees and customers.”
Two of McGregor’s five children have joined him in the business — oldest son Archie and youngest son Brian — “and that makes me very proud,” he said.
Archie McGregor 3rd joined the company after graduating from college. “We had just put in computerized front-end registers, and I really hadn’t worked with those, so I asked him if he would stay and help, and he did,” McGregor recalled.
“And when Brian, graduated from college, he said he’d like to come into the business, and an opening was there. So it’s been really nice. Archie enjoys the IT part of the business and he also oversees equipment, and Brian enjoys the marketing and sales part of the business, so they really complement each other.”
At age 75, McGregor has stepped away from day-to-day operations and left his sons in charge. “They make different decisions than I might have made, but that’s part of the generational change,” he explained.
“The biggest part of passing control to the next generation is keeping the lines of communication open so they will talk to you, but you have to respect whatever they choose to do, both in business and in life.
“Whenever something comes up, they always call me and we talk about most decisions. I give my opinions for them to consider, and then they decide what they want to do, which is fine with me. So it’s been a good transition.”
The decision to invest in Revionics, for example, was made by his sons on their own, McGregor pointed out. “I challenged them and questioned whether that system would really change the way we price, but now I believe they made the right decision.”
It isn’t clear yet if a fourth generation of McGregors will join the business, he said, though one of his 12 grandchildren — Megan Tracy — majored in marketing at Loyola University in Chicago and then did an internship with Willard Bishop, Barrington, Ill., before joining the marketing team at IGA, he noted.