CLEARLAKE, Calif. -- Being recognized as the "local guy" in town is the best distinction for Dennis Darling, who owns Foods Etc. and Susanville Supermarket in two small towns with local populations of about 10,000.
Darling's customers can also shop Safeway and conventional Wal-Mart Stores, but Darling says his edge against the competition is maintaining close ties to the community, especially through various fund-raising events.
Evidence of bonding with the community will soon be seen on the side of the 32,000-square-foot Susanville store with the completion of a mural -- a painting of the town's history in celebration of its centennial.
"We provide good perishables, good service and we are also the store in town that if the community needs support in running community-based programs it comes to us," said Darling.
Beyond community involvement, Darling will be recognized as one of IGA's International Retailers of the Year for several merchandising events, including display contests that support the local community and for being innovative in keeping rising utility costs in line. The retailer will be recognized for the following:
One-day meat bonanza sales run twice a year. The Susanville store so far holds the record of $55,000 in sales generated in one day. The promotion typically increases the sales in other departments as well by 25% to 50%.
Christmas holiday gift certificate sales mailed to local business and service clubs. The promotion, which typically generates a week's worth of sales in gift certificates, draws new customers and spurs additional sales during the holiday.
National display contests with Campbell Soup and Kellogg's. Food Etc. won the National Campbell's Labels for Education contest four times in a row, and of the last six Kellogg's national contests, the stores have won five times. Through the Campbell's event, Darling donated educational suppliers to local schools.
The retailer is being cited in reacting quickly to a 41% increase in utility costs at the Susanville store. Darling hired an energy consultant who helped redesign several systems to reclaim previously wasted energy and recaptured the heat from the compressors to heat the store and hot water. The store was also de-lamped but still maintained effective lighting. The result was only a 9% increase in the store's electricity bill and no price increases were passed onto customers.
According to Darling, "It's tough out there, no doubt, but the good thing about being an independent is that you can react to the community quicker than the big guys can."
Darling is particularly proud of high scores received during IGA's annual operational assessment in which stores are rated on various criteria including cleanliness, food safety, customer treatment and merchandising.
Both Susanville and the 27,000-square-foot Foods Etc. were remodeled last year, making room for an expanded perishables departments. Both stores now offer as many as 150 new specialty cheeses, expanded hot foods, organic produce and new bakery items.