SALT LAKE CITY — Bob Harmon is spending more time in the stores these days, which is only fitting for an executive with the title of vice president of the consumer.
Harmon is one of the owners of Harmon's, a family-owned chain that operates all 12 of its stores — with a 13th location scheduled to open in late April — in Utah. Volume runs around $360 million a year, he told SN.
Since adopting his unusual title late last year, Harmon has been interacting one-on-one with customers and employees at the stores in an effort to differentiate the company from the competition and reinforce the image of an owner who cares, he told SN.
“After years of driving a desk, my biggest value to the company is to be on the floor in the stores, engaging customers and associates to enhance the in-store environment for selling more product, educating consumers about what we're doing and listening to what they have to tell me.”
He's also there to support the infrastructure that the company has been developing at store level for the past seven years, he added, including upgrades in service, quality and assortments in all perishables departments to differentiate Harmon's from the Wal-Marts, SuperTargets, Costcos and various supermarket competitors operating in its home market.
“We're bringing excitement back to shopping, and I'm helping our customers learn how to have more fun at the stores by talking to them about what we're trying to do and then introducing them to the service personnel who can help fill their needs,” he explained.
He said he's currently spending three or four days each week in the stores, and he anticipates spending more time there once he's selected a successor to his previous job as vice president of marketing and advertising.
He is already well known to most shoppers, having spent the last seven years with his brother Randy as company spokesmen on TV and radio and in weekly print ads.
Asked to describe what he does, Harmon told SN: “When I go into a store, I walk around to see how the departments are operating and whether all our standards are being met. Once I've done that, I start approaching customers. I introduce myself and ask if we're taking good care of them and how we can help. Then I offer to show them something — depending on which department I'm in, it might be artisan bread or handmade sausages or salsa — and then bring them over to the sales associate.
“That's a lot more effective than relying on point-of-sale signs to describe what we're offering and what the customer is seeing. That interaction with the customer adds value to what they're looking at, which is the key point of my job.
“I'm there as the customers' advocate. My goal is not to sell them something but to serve as a bridge to begin an interaction with our associates and to make sure they are being engaged by our associates at the level we want.”
He interacts with employees by taking note of sales increases or reduced shrink and complimenting them, he said. “And if a customer tells me what a good job a particular associate is doing, I go over and share that compliment with the associate in front of his peers,” he added.
Harmon said he gets more than his share of compliments on the way the stores operate, “but it's harder to get customers to talk about the things they don't like. Sometimes you have to work hard to fish it out of people.”
He keeps an index card in his pocket, with notes on “compliments” on one side and “opportunities” on the other, then logs that information onto the company's intranet for follow-up.
Most of the opportunities involve very basic things, he said, like restroom cleanliness; repairing lights that aren't working at night on the store's parking lots; and providing better staffing in some departments at certain times of day.
While he wants to hear what's not right about the stores, “I'm also happy to hear that our service and quality levels are good,” he said.
Once he selects a new marketing executive, Harmon said he expects to spend more time at the stores, as well as more time working in the community, particularly with schools.