OLNEY, Ill. — Tony Clements likes to think that the IGA store that he manages does a good job supporting the community.
He found out over the holidays that the support is reciprocal. After his son was injured in a serious Christmas Eve car accident, Clements, who this month was named the IGA USA International Retailer of the Year, saw his store's staff and customers come to the rescue, just as the IGA does for local charities all year long.
As Clements' funds to help pay bills for his son, Josh, ran out, his store's workers began selling coupon books to raise more money so Josh, who is 29 and married with two children, could pay his bills while he recuperates and waits for disability benefits to kick in. They raised $1,600 in the first five days.
“You can't buy love,” Tony Clements told SN. “You can't put a price on that.”
It's no surprise that Clements credited the staff of Olney IGA, which is owned by Houchens Industries, Bowling Green, Ky., for his success of winning the IGA USA International Retailer of the Year Award as well.
Measuring just 22,500 square feet, the Olney IGA manages to offer of full slate of services — including floral, catering, deli, bakery and meat-cutting — for a town of about 8,000 population that also includes a supercenter and a Save-A-Lot.
“No. 1, I believe the reason we are successful is because of our people,” Clements told SN. “Everybody here shows a lot of care and concern — it's like having 60-some different owners. They all feel like they have a stake in this.”
Customers are called “guests,” and treated like guests in someone's home, he said.
“A ‘customer’ sounds like a number and a price — a ‘guest,’ you call by name,” Clements explained. “Most of our customers here are like family, so when you get a request, it is like your family requesting it.”
Many of the customers also know the service staff by name, and often request individual butchers or deli personnel to prepare their orders, Clements said.
The butcher program, in fact, is one of the features that distinguish the store from competitors. The store has long been known for having a strong meat department, a reputation Clements says has only been enhanced by IGA's Angus beef program.
“We still do things the old-fashioned way,” Clements said. “We grind our own meat every day, and do all our own cuts.”
The store is also involved in a range of community activities, from sponsoring local baseball and softball teams to raising donations for local charities. Beginning in spring and continuing through the fall, the store hosts a cookout every week, where a local church sometimes raises funds selling peanut brittle, for example.
The store is also involved with Big Brothers and Big Sisters, the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life and other local nonprofit groups and events.
The store recently secured 1,500 pounds of pet food for the local Humane Society through in-store donations, and it is expanding the campaign year-round because of the strong need for assistance in the weak economy.
In addition, Olney IGA is involved in the local Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP), through which the store provides jobs and job training for some challenged students, and with the Illinois Department of Human Services, through which the store also provides employment and job training to people receiving public assistance.
Clements said he has already hired one of the students that went through the STEP program as a regular employee, and he hopes that the Human Services program, which is just getting under way, will also help him fill some skilled-labor needs in places like the butcher department.
Clements has a long history with the store, which was founded in 1948 as an IGA and owned for a time by Jasper, Ind.-based Buehler Foods, and operated under that chain's Buy Low banner. Houchens Industries, a diversified company operating several different food-retailing formats under a variety of banners, acquired the store through Buehler's bankruptcy, and a little over a year ago converted it back to IGA.
“The people here loved that old IGA, and they loved it when we opened it back up again,” said Clements, who was part of the team that shut down the IGA when Buehler Foods acquired it in 1999. “The sales we are doing show it.”
The Olney IGA was selected from among six finalists, based on Chicago-based IGA's assessments, and Clements, as the store manager, is scheduled to be honored along with international IGA operators from other countries at the 2010 IGA USA Global Rally Awards Banquet April 19 in Nashville, Tenn.