Chris Van Parys, president of W. Lee Flowers, Kj’s/IGA, was elected CFIC’s 19th president at the…
Greg Adams, owner of a Piggly Wiggly store in both Broadway and Sanford, North Carolina, was elected CFIC’s 18th president at the CFIC Convention in July. Greg is one of CFIC’s longest serving board members having been involved with CFIC since 1998 and serving on the board since the former North Carolina Food Dealers Association merged with the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association in 2005, creating the Carolinas Food Industry Council.
Like many in the grocery industry, Greg started young and worked his way up. Greg started working at the Weingarten supermarket chain in Houston, Texas when he was 15 years old and by age 24, he had worked his way into a store management position. After his first daughter, Michelle, was born in 1988, he moved from the retail side of the business to the wholesale side. When an opportunity with the Flemings Food division in Warsaw, North Carolina, opened up, Greg and his family made the move.
The move to North Carolina was the beginning of Greg’s connection to the Piggly Wiggly stores. Now Greg owns two Piggly Wiggly stores in North Carolina: one in the small town of Broadway (2,500 residents), and the other in the larger town of Sanford. Greg purchased the Broadway store in 2001 when he was General Manager of the Nash Finch Lumberton warehouse. The Sanford store was a Winn-Dixie that he purchased after the company declared bankruptcy in 2005.
Greg wears multiple hats and is hands-on in every aspect of the business: as an owner and operator, that often means he’s also a manager and employee. As an owner, he plans for the future as it relates to store remodels, equipment, technology, and food trends. As an operator, he keeps his finger on the pulse of the changing demographics in his community so he can best position the store to meet his customers’ shifting needs. He performs resets to bring in new and different items and analyzes movement to get rid of slow-moving items. As a manager, he supervises and audits employee’s performance and manages the schedule which—of course—means stepping in when someone calls out. That can mean bagging or checking groceries, working in the office, gathering baskets, stocking shelves, or a myriad of other tasks.
A True Family Business
Greg and his wife, Nancy, have run the two stores since opening them. Greg handles the day-to-day business of running the store and Nancy, who has worked for MITRE in support of NASA; McDonnell Douglas; Boeing; Ericsson; and Hatteras Networks, spends most of her time doing their accounting, P&L’s, paying taxes, automating processes, writing software, and auditing the business processes.
Their daughter, Michelle Bowen, came on board in 2012. Michelle attended the French Culinary Institute in New York and helps manage the store. She is also in charge of developing and merchandising the Hispanic product line and the craft beer and wine programs. She has taken it upon herself to help remerchandise and decorate the store, bringing it to a whole new level. Their youngest daughter, Katherine, graduated from UGA and went to medical school at UNC-Chapel Hill. She is in her final year of an ENT residency at MUSC in Charleston, SC, and has charted a course outside of the family business.
Greg says, “Family taught me the value of love, constancy, attention, and affection. It taught me the importance of being available and present, of being supportive and firm, and of being engaged in all facets of my family member’s lives – the good and the bad. Family is the rock we must depend on at all times.”
Working with family requires extra care. “You have to be open to different ideas and suggestions, so everyone has a voice in all important decisions,” he says. “When you disagree on a decision, you have to table it and think through the decision-making process. It pays to have everyone on the same page!”
Keys to Success
When asked about the keys to their success, Greg points to differentiation and community involvement. He stands out from his competition by offering his employees very flexible schedules, loans for emergency situations, room to advance their careers, and giving whatever support they need to better themselves.
They treat their customers similarly. “We have an old-fashioned idea that customers really do matter as people and help them out when they need help (think stacks and stacks of IOU’s in a wallet), lending them a listening ear, and going out on a limb to cash checks for those with limited or no identification. And yes, we have been burned a few times, but overall it helps our customers,” Greg says.
They also offer services like specialized meat cutting and special orders for catering. “Oh, and did I mention we have an awesome cake decorator? She’s referred to by the entire community as the ‘Cake Lady’,” Greg adds.
They also offer a wide variety of artisan items imported from Mexico like pottery, piggy banks, cutting boards, tortilla warmers, pinatas, etc. Greg says, “Most stores can’t carry these types of items because they are labor intensive to receive, merchandise, and keep up with. We do it to give us a point of distinction.”
Greg and his family take pride in their community involvement. He says, “We have spent the past 20 years helping local non-profits and providing funds and support for any causes that are near and dear to us. We are personally involved in many non-profits and have served on many boards. We support the local non-profit fundraisers with time, donation, and ideas.”
Changes: Past, Present, and Future
When asked about what’s changed in the industry, Greg replies, “I started in the industry in 1968 at the age of 15. That was 54 years ago. To say that the industry has changed would be an understatement! When I started out, the registers were mechanical and had a handle to crank if you lost power. Items were price marked with ink stampers. All soda water and milk were sold in returnable bottles, so you had to have a bottle booth to receive the empties when they brought them back and give a receipt for them. Most of the stores had incinerators where you burned all your burnable trash and empty boxes. All beef and pork came in full carcasses that the butchers would have to break down. All of that has changed over the years.”
“Technology has changed the industry – slowly at first and more rapidly in the past decade. The day is coming when cashiers and stockers are a relic of the past as self-checkouts and robots replace our current employees. The internet has also played a big role in changing the industry – it is not hard to imagine a day when some physical stores may also go the way of dinosaurs.”
“We are in uncharted territory and will be facing some short-term difficulties based on the supply chain issues, regulatory landscape, workforce problems, energy prices and many other issues we have not faced in recent times,” he adds. “We must be realistic and conservative in our planning to account for a looming recession and higher interest rates. Planning must be more proactive since there are so many issues when ordering equipment and inventory. There are challenges we must meet head-on that we have never dealt with before – like ordering equipment and having to wait a year to get it. But these are short-term problems and if you can hang on, you will be rewarded in the longer term.”
Greg recognizes that by working together the industry can impact legislation and regulations in a positive way through CFIC. He says, “It is imperative to keep CFIC relevant to all its members, so it maintains a strong voice and influence for everyone dealing with the organization. We must continue to grow and attract new members, so we stay strong and maintain our influence.”
“I hope to help guide the association to be proactive for its members so we can build on the successes we have had and continue to grow the association,” he adds. “I also hope to show the members the importance of sharing their opinions with our legislators to help guide and shape our future.”
As a final point, Greg adds, “Make sure you vote and let your legislators know what you expect!”