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Stater Bros. is the largest privately owned Supermarket Chain in Southern California reporting annual sales in 2013 of $3.9 billion. With more than 18,000 members of the Stater Bros. Supermarket Family, it currently operates 167 Supermarkets.staterbros.com
“Low prices, quality merchandise, exceptional service, convenient locations. These foundational values set the course for Stater Bros. Markets when it opened its first store in 1936. But, when Chairman of the Board and CEO Jack H. Brown took the helm over 31 years ago, an essential ingredient was added to the mix: valued employees.”
“It’s always been my philosophy‚” says Brown‚ “that if people don’t feel good about themselves, they’ll never feel good about their company. My emphasis has always been on how we can improve morale and have our people take pride in themselves and everything they do.”
What does this mean? Treating your employees like family, all 18,000 of them. Be there for them through good times and bad. Make key management decisions and investments not for immediate gain but because it’s the right thing to do for the greater good. Honor and celebrate loyalty to create a culture where people are engaged to bring their best every day.
Above, Jack H. Brown Chairman of the Board and CEO Stater Bros. Markets
As Retail District Manager Steve Landry, with 40 years of service, explains, “It’s easy to work for a place for a long time when any decision you’re making, you’re always following the management philosophy to do the right thing for the right reason.”
On the surface these appear as old fashioned values. But in today’s economic climate, it’s actually a progressive strategy that has led this $4 billion, Fortune 500 company to profitability and success. During the recent recession, it’s a sense of pride that Stater Bros.’ 167 stores weathered the storm avoiding any layoffs or closures. In fact, the opposite was true.
New stores were opened and older stores were remodeled and expanded upon, all with environmentally friendly features. A state-of-the-art distribution center was built, creating a 98% efficiency ship rate (most
chains ship at about 95%). And, to show support for the local communities it serves, prices have consistently been kept down.
To date, customer counts are up. Not surprisingly, this year Consumer Reports named Stater Bros. Markets the number one full service supermarket chain in Southern California.
“We were selected on the basis of low prices, quality meat and produce, quality of our service and the cleanliness of our stores,” says Brown. “We’re number one because of our customers and because of our people.”
The cleanliness of the stores, the friendliness of the staff, all point to one thing: committed employees who have tremendous pride in what they do. Impressively, turnover rates for full-time employees stand at 4.47% and only 3% for the distribution center. With 6,500 employees who have worked for the company for 20 years or more, it’s clear that when people are valued they’re motivated to stay and contribute.
Brown himself started out as a box boy at the age of 13. He credits his work ethic to being raised by a single mom and you’ll find the influences of a deep love of country, community and the Stater Bros. family of employees evident in how he’s shaped Stater Bros.’ culture.
“It starts with Jack,“ explains Stater Bros. Executive Vice President, Retail Operations and Administration George Frahm, who has 36 years
with the company, “From our senior management team down through our store managers, we teach and expect respect.”
“We’re in a people business,” points out Landry. “It’s about people taking care of people to make the company stronger.”
Brown’s leadership is modeled right down the line–district managers, supervisors and managers–all show the same care and respect. “My supervisor goes around making sure everybody is doing okay,” explains 10-year employee and General Merchandise Clerk Jaime Santos. “If they see something that’s bothering you, they’re very quick to act on it.”
Beyond making sure employees feel cared for and have the right tools for the job–the company provides opportunities for personal growth and advancement. Through its Greater Education Program, Stater Bros. offers tuition reimbursement and hosts classes in retail management at its corporate headquarters. It operates the only state-certified meat cutter class and its Training Center, which has individual check stands, provides classes to courtesy clerks who want to advance their careers.
“We’ve got 167 stores. There’s always movement. If you’re motivated to get ahead, if that’s what you want, it is there,” points out Kathy Finazzo, Vice President of Diversity, Corporate EEO Officer and a 36-year veteran.
“I love that the managers acknowledge your work. You feel appreciated.”
–Jaime Santos, General Merchandise Clerk with 10 Years of Service
“I think one of our great strengths is building our culture mainly from within,” explains Frahm. “The vast majority of our senior management team and store managers all started in the same place. They know what it is like to bag groceries and mop floors. That’s helped us build that family atmosphere. You become loyal to the company.”
A cornerstone to Brown’s philosophy has been honoring the commitment and loyalty for years of service. For more than 25 years, Stater Bros. has partnered with O.C. Tanner to provide a high-quality symbol of recognition.
At each employee’s one year anniversary, they receive a Stater Bros. pin. At 5 years the pin is crafted in 10 karat gold with a genuine ruby. At 10 years it features a genuine diamond–and continues with diamonds and rubies added every five years after that.
“We wanted it (the lapel pin) to be recognized by the customers we serve and by other members of the Stater Bros. family as a symbol of how many years that individual has contributed to the growth of our company,” says Brown. “It’s a statement to them that ‘we value you.’”
“It’s a way to reward the people and let them know we’re here to take care of everybody,” explains Landry. “Our customers and our employees. It builds up morale because it shows our commitment to them and commitment that the company is going to be around tomorrow.”
At 20 years and above, employees and their spouses are invited to a Family Service Awards Banquet. The evening includes entertainment and an awards ceremony, where each recipient is invited on stage to receive their pin from Brown.
Every award presentation provides a unique opportunity to reinforce what matters most. These celebration moments help connect employees to where the organization is going, calling out how individually they are contributing to that journey.
“The majority of our employees are out in the stores and they love to wear the pins on their vests or their apr—they’re proud of their achievements.”
–Antoinette Fraser, Customer Service Representative
One-year recipients receive their first pin from their direct manager, with a personalized letter from Brown. At an employee’s five-year anniversary, district managers take the time to go out, even for stock crews and others, who work during the middle of the night, and share their appreciation.
“It’s special for the employees but it’s also special for us as leaders as it provides an opportunity to pass on our Stater Bros. culture, which is what makes our company so strong,” explains Frahm.
“I love that the managers acknowledge your work. You feel appreciated. They point out all the good things you do. Little stuff you wouldn’t notice about yourself,” says Santos.
When store managers themselves reach their 5-year mark, they get invited to breakfast with Brown and other members of the leadership team. Just one more way that helps align them with the vision going forward.
“You’re always given a sense of all being part of the same family. That is the culture and it’s not just something that you see in a newsletter. It’s something that’s practiced and experienced by everyone,” says Security Department Sergeant, Gerald Colunga, who’s been with Stater Bros. for 25 years.
For a man who’s received numerous awards, including the 2011 Congressional Medal of Honor Society “Patriot Award”, Brown considers Stater Bros. one of his greatest achievements.
“I’ve been in the industry over 60 years. I started as a young box boy,” concludes Brown. “I’ve been a CEO for over 35 years. Although I gave up the presidency a few years ago, I still remain Chairman and CEO. That’s what this pin represents. And, if the recognition of this pin means as much to me as the recognition of the pins at each level of our company, that’s meaningful.”