Grocer finds support of local schools key to success; Tiburon next
[caption id="attachment_21300" align="alignleft" width="360" caption="Woodlands Market owner Don Santa"][/caption]
Name: Don Santa
Title: Owner, founder
Company: Woodlands Markets
Company address: 735 College Ave., Kentfield 94904
Professional background: Stockbroker, grocer
Education: Sonoma State University
KENTFIELD – One of Marin County's most stalwart supporters of schools and nonprofits is not an investment banker or the CEO of a major corporation as one might expect. Don Santa is a grocer.
Purchasing a small neighborhood market in 1986, he grew it into an operation with sales- per-square-foot three times the national average.
The Woodlands Market in Kentfield is upscale in every sense, from its on-site bakery and cafe to its weekly wine tasting sessions, organic ice cream creamery, in-house roasted coffee, imported and domestic cheese selections and locally sourced meats and poultry.
During the last 20 years Mr. Santa and his family – two sisters, a brother-in-law and four members of the youngest generation work in and around the operation – have donated more than $2.3 million to local schools and charitable organizations.
The Santas hold charitable events at the market and often welcome fundraising groups to their home and spacious grounds in the hills above Ross.
Now the family has completed the purchase of a beloved corner market in Ross and is about to break ground on a state-of-the-art Woodlands Market in nearby Tiburon.
We asked Don Santa, who prefers to omit the title Mr., to describe how the Woodlands Market business model emerged.
THE BUSINESS JOURNAL: What drew you into the food retailing business?
DON: At age 25, I was a stockbroker making cold calls and realizing what a terrible fit it was for me. By chance a funky little wine and liquor market in my neighborhood went up for sale. I had no money, no retail skills or experience. But I convinced the owner I could make a success of it by hard work. He agreed to carry the papers.
I actually have some grocer's blood in my veins. My great, great uncle ran a market at California and Hyde when he first arrived in San Francisco from Italy. But his store was eventually squeezed out by supermarkets, and my father, who had witnessed the demise of so many small family markets during the 1960s, tried hard to talk me out of going into the business.
After I respectfully disagreed with him, he pitched in and worked as hard as I did until his death several years later.
THE BUSINESS JOURNAL: Can you describe your business model?
DON: During the first years I became a student of the trade and took a non-conventional look at a lot of other markets. I came to the conclusion that the usual practice of putting 1 percent, 2 percent of sales into advertising wasn't the best way to go in certain situations. You spend money advertising a special price on something, and the large markets easily undercut your price.