MINNEAPOLIS -- When customers of Nash Finch Co. talk about their wholesaler, they use words like integrity, trust and family. "They're what we like to call good folks," said Robert Corn, chief executive officer of Hinky Dinky Markets, a 13-store chain based in Omaha, Neb. In interviews with a handful of Nash Finch retailers, SN found a genuine affection for the supplier by its retailers. "We like the way they treat people," said Curt Magnuson, president of Hugo's, a seven-store group in Grand Forks, N.D. "One of their strengths is the way they strive to present things in a way that shows they care and that they don't consider you just a number. "When they say they will do something, they do it. There's no deception involved, and they're not dealing with only half a deck on the table." Mike Parker, general manager of Decker's Food Center, a seven-store group in Gillette, Wyo., expressed similar thoughts. "We're still impressed with the attitude of the [Nash Finch] people and their concern for the retailers and the way they work with them. The name 'Our Family' on their private-label line says it all, and there's a lot of truth there and a lot of effort to create a family atmosphere. "I'm convinced they respond to us because they genuinely care -- not just because I'm a customer but because of the relationship we've established over the years." According to Corn, "The words that come to mind when I think of Nash Finch are credibility, honesty and integrity. You can count on what they tell you. "It's amazing Nash Finch has been able to maintain that personal touch. As the business has changed over the last few years, you can see the company has remained on the cutting edge of technology, yet has been able to maintain those personal relationships with people." Bert Steele, president and chief executive officer of Steele's Markets, a four-store group in Fort Collins, Colo., said he regards the company's family-oriented atmosphere as a legacy left by Harold (Shorty) Finch Jr., the late chairman and grandson of one of the company's founders. "Shorty Finch was a great man," Steele declared. "He was someone you could call and talk to. He probably persuaded us to switch [wholesalers] because he was very approachable, trustworthy and always trying to help. "Whenever I think of Nash Finch, I think of Shorty Finch. He knew the industry, and he knew practical things that make the business work." The complete comments of the Nash Finch retailers interviewed by SN follow:
We've been Nash Finch customers since 1939, when my father founded the company. We know a lot about other wholesalers, but we've had a good relationship with Nash Finch and have had no reason to look elsewhere. Whenever we try to compare and assess whether or not we're getting the best deals, we've found we probably get the best deals in our region from Nash Finch. And we like the way they treat people. When they say they will do something, they do it, and when they say they will handle things a certain way, that's the way they handle it. There's no deception involved, and they're not dealing with only half a deck on the table. We have confidence in each other. One of their strengths is the way they strive to present things with a certain touch, in a way that shows they care and that they don't consider you just a number. They pay attention to you whether you're large or small, and they have a good communication process set up. We've had to call on them for extra help every once in a while when we're working on a remodel or new store and something unexpected happens that we didn't anticipate. That's when Nash Finch steps forward and makes it happen. Or if we're having a problem with a contractor that requires expertise beyond our means to resolve, then Nash Finch steps in. There have been some occasions when they promised us an item and we put it in the ad and then they found they were out of stock. But because they make a commitment, they're willing to substitute another item, even if it costs them more, to satisfy the customer.
We've been with Nash Finch for 11 years. When Hinky Dinky was part of Cullum Cos. [now a part of Randalls Food Markets, Houston], Cullum was using another wholesaler but switched to Nash Finch for about six months while we were still under their corporate umbrella, and we were so pleased with their performance that when we started our own business, we stayed with them. The words that come to mind when I think of Nash Finch are credibility, honesty and integrity. You can count on what they tell you. I interact with other Nash Finch customers, and while we may complain sometimes, the overriding opinion is you can count on what they tell you. They're what we like to call good folks. When new competition opens nearby, they assist us above and beyond the call to make sure we're able to combat the new guy. They send their buyers on missions to get the products we need at a good price so we won't be undersold. It's amazing Nash Finch has been able to maintain that personal touch that comes from the families that started the company. Maybe the older executives might see it differently, but we think there's still a very personal relationship with customers where I can call the president or other top executives and they get right back to me. Nash Finch has been able to maintain a small-company approach. But as the business has changed over the last few years, with ECR and whatever, you can see the company has remained on the cutting edge of technology, yet has been able to maintain those personal relationships with people. One reason we've stayed with them is that, even with changes away from family management with Shorty's death, we haven't seen any change in that approach.
We've been buying from Nash Finch since 1984, when our previous wholesaler [AG of Colorado] went broke, and while we could have gone with several companies, we chose Nash Finch because it just seemed like a better fit from a personnel standpoint. The offerings are the same, the prices are about the same, though Nash Finch is probably a little lower, and the services are comparable. But we are still impressed with the attitude of the people and their concern for the retailers and the way they work with them. The name Our Family on their private-label line says it all, and there's a lot of truth there and a lot of effort to create a family atmosphere between the company and its employees, between customers and vendors, and between vendors and the company. Those bonds are stronger than between those same groups at other wholesale companies. Nash Finch talks about 'our family,' and it's true. They have come to the table every time we've needed something. They're willing to listen and participate in solving problems and promoting growth. I'm convinced they respond to us because they genuinely care -- not just because I'm a customer but because of the relationship we've established over the years. There are times they suffer my wrath, and there are occasions we have serious discussions about certain issues. But I like that about Nash Finch, too -- that we can discuss problems and tempers may flare but we end up back on the same terms when we're done. This is 1995, and some bonds are not as strong as they used to be. The company has gotten bigger, some stores are in more remote locations and it's more difficult to visit all customers often. But they still keep in close touch.
We've been with Nash Finch for eight years, since AG of Colorado went bankrupt. When we selected Nash Finch, it came down to pricing, which was better than the competition, and private label. We had carried the Shurfine label for over 40 years, and we were able to keep Shurfine by buying from Nash Finch because they picked it up from AG.
The people at Nash Finch are really knowledgeable about the grocery industry, and they're very practical. The advice we get from them is solid and based on the basics of the industry. We get good, solid information from them that we need really badly because things are really competitive. And if we're trying to add a new program, we're able to get information from someone else who has tried it, and we've found that's very good for us. Nash Finch has intervened in negotiations on real estate and loans to help us get better deals, and they've always been able to us get products we needed. Shorty Finch was a great man. He was someone you could call and talk to. The first meeting we had with Nash Finch was with Shorty, and he probably persuaded us to switch because he was very approachable. When we went to Minnesota in January 1987, he made a presentation, with slides and a speech about the history of the company, and it was very impressive to me to have the CEO of a company like Nash Finch do that. We always had a good relationship, and whenever I think of Nash Finch, I think of Shorty Finch. He knew the industry, and he knew practical things that make the business work.