COPPEROPOLIS, Calif. -- Since purchasing the 20,000-square-foot Payless IGA here in January 2002, Louis Young grew the unit's weekly sales from $60,000 to more than $100,000. That was no simple task.
Young operates in a highly competitive market that includes a Wal-Mart Stores supercenter and a Winco Food Store. Yet, he rose to the challenge by pricing competitively, updating merchandise, and expanding the bakery and deli departments. The payoff was big. Young's entrepreneurial acumen, plus his fund-raising efforts that benefit the community, have earned him a 2005 IGA International Retailer of the Year award.
Young, 61, is president of KLK Corp., which owns and operates three Payless IGA stores in Northern California, the one here, and the other two in Lockeford and Pioneer.
Young's current situation is a far cry from his early days in food retailing. As a youth, he sorted bottles, mopped floors and washed potatoes at his father's store. He remained with the business his father, Harry Young, started in Lockeford, Calif., in 1953. Now, he works alongside his brother Kenneth, now Payless' chief financial officer, and his son Kevin, KLK's vice president. KLK oversees approximately 150 employees dispatched among the three stores.
Young said a two-pronged advertising strategy he has developed helps him succeed, despite the presence of large chains in the area. He produces a weekly advertising supplement and buys airtime on local radio stations. Promoting Payless IGA has increased store traffic and profitability at the three stores and Young estimated that the stores attract nearly 25,000 shoppers a week.
Last year, a Safeway opened near the Payless here. As a result, the store dropped in volume for nearly two weeks. Customers soon returned, however, citing the store's friendly atmosphere and excellent quality of product, Young said. Sales rose accordingly.
"We are, as far as price, below the chains. People think the independents are high, but we are below," Young said. "We try to be competitive. With things like holiday candy, our prices are right in with Wal-Mart."
Moreover, Young donates money to nearly every civic organization in the area. During the summer, Payless hosts three charity golf tournaments, which net approximately $30,000. In early fall, Payless hosts a steak and oyster dinner, raising $10,000 for area schools.
"We've really been working with the schools," he said. "Last year, between the three stores, we donated probably $50,000."
Young reflected on his switch to IGA 10 years ago. He said he received a warm welcome from the community that was familiar with the brand. "It looked like a good opportunity to me. Everybody was just so happy that we went with IGA." Prior to that, KLK had been with the Big T banner for 25 years.
As for the future, Young said he would consider opening another store. Meanwhile, he continues to enjoy watching his own employees advance in the business. "I have a lot of employees that have gone on to own their own stores. If you see anyone really succeed, it really makes you feel good."