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Tell us about Oliver’s Markets and your involvement with the company.
Oliver's Markets operates three supermarkets in Sonoma County. We are locally owned and offer a wide variety natural and conventional groceries, high quality perishables and restaurant-quality prepared foods; focusing on local products whenever possible. I am the vice president and general manager, and have been with Oliver's since 1990.
How does Oliver’s remain competitive amid an increasing number of competitors, some of which being national chains?
We have to stay pretty nimble. We never take our customers for granted, and we work hard to provide value in every part of our stores. We are constantly looking for competitive advantages arising from our ability to react quickly and leverage our proximity and understanding of our customers. With three stores, we enjoy substantial economies of scale, but we can turn on a dime and react to opportunities quickly. Because we live here in Sonoma County, we share the sensibilities of our customers. Our kids attend the same schools as our customer's kids. We share an appreciation of the great agricultural community that gives Sonoma County its unique flavor. We know that things grown here really do taste better. National chains, especially those that are publicly traded, are ultimately managed by folks who live somewhere else and thankfully don't really get it.
What role has Oliver’s connection with local food producers played in the life of the company?
We have always been connected to local producers, but it's been our primary competitive advantage over the past three or four years. We have made a concerted effort to connect with local farmers and manufacturers and to call attention to the amazing community we are blessed to do business in. We have constricted our definition of local to mean Sonoma County only. We have clearly marked local products to highlight them for customers. Each of our receipts provides a total of the value of Sonoma County products purchased. We have decorated our stores with posters highlighting our local vendors, what town they do business in and how many local jobs they provide. We're trying to make the connection that when you spend a dollar with us, you not only support our company and our 500, but you also support a larger locally economy that benefits everyone that lives here.
How has the consumer changed since Oliver’s began doing business in Sonoma County?
In some ways, they've changed a lot. The growth of the Sonoma County wine industry has meant the region has developed world-class restaurants, and with that, our customers have become more sophisticated in their tastes and have demanded a more sophisticated variety of products. Consumers have also moved towards natural, organic and prepared foods. But in a more basic way, they have not changed much at all. They expect us to earn their business. They expect us to provide a high level of service and value. They expect integrity. These are things we always keep in mind.
Has the economic recession affected Oliver’s supply chain, business or customer behaviors?
Sure. Increased fuel prices have affected our wholesale costs. Customers are still shopping with us, but they are demanding that we keep our pencils sharp and prove that there is value in our stores. We have seen substantial sales increases throughout the recession, partially because we have been successful in communicating this value but also in part because we represent a low-cost alternative to restaurants, which have had a rough time the past few years.