The Pictsweet Company was named CFIC’s 2022 Supplier of the Year. CFIC president Tim Lowe…
Chris Van Parys, president of W. Lee Flowers, Kj’s/IGA, was elected CFIC’s 19th president at the CFIC Convention in July. Chris was first elected to CFIC’s board in 2020 and draws on his 41 years of industry experience as well as involvement in other industry associations to generate ideas and provide perspective in guiding and leading the council.
Growing up in Bay City, Michigan, Chris started in the industry as a bottle counter at a family-owned IGA group with three stores. That was in 1982 and since then, he has “[seen] the rollout of scanners, PLU’s, Computer Generated Ordering, the expansion of meal solutions, smart phones, experiential retailing…and SO MUCH more as you’d imagine after 41 years in the business.”
Chris now leads W. Lee Flowers, a Lake City, SC based company, which first started as a wholesaler in 1922. They have grown into a wholesaler/retailer who now operates over sixty Kj’s and IGA retail stores as well as servicing approximately thirty independent stores and is now part of the Alex Lee family of companies along with Lowes Foods and Souto Foods.
If you spend any time with Chris, you’ll quickly learn that through his family and his career in the grocery industry he has grown into the epitome of a true servant leader and is truly passionate about fostering the potential of those around him.
“We have a very noble calling in that we take men and women and teach them a trade where they’ll never need to worry about how they’ll provide for their families. We are in a resilient business, and it’s led through—and with—great people who genuinely care about growing their communities through empowerment.” Chris told us. “As fathers and mothers, we all own developing our sons and daughters to be hard-working, respectful, and responsible. Our business can help be a part of this development.”
Chris notes three individuals as having the greatest influence on him professionally: Don Brown, an ex-drill Sergeant that taught him the value of discipline, process, and respect; Paul Zampicini, imparted an entrepreneurial spirit and “taught me to run the store/operation as if I owned it;” and Tim Lowe who taught him the power of brand, culture, and developing talented leaders.
Of these individuals and others, he says, “I still remember the leaders that influenced me nearly 40 years ago. I talk about them constantly and I endeavor to lead in ways that honor them.”
Clearly his favorite books (Stephen R. Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and John Maxwell’s “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”) have made their mark on his leadership style. He says, “So much of our business is centered around relationships and those folks that we help along the way and those that we allow to influence us as leaders. Allow yourself to be inspired by others and do your level best to inspire those around you. We are in a great industry that still knows the value of a handshake, the honor of developing young men and women into leaders and the ability we all have to grow community.”
Q&A with Chris Van Parys
Q: In your opinion, what are the keys to success in the industry?
- Embrace change because it’s inevitable. Be aware, be vigilant, be nimble.
- Innovate while staying connected to our guests. Technologies will come and go, but creating lasting relationships with our guests is literally the secret-sauce of retail.
- Grow our people and our communities. In many of the cities where we do business, we are the largest employers and responsible for the hopes and dreams of so many of our folks.
Q: What do you think the future holds for CFIC’s grocers in our current business climate?
A: There are lots of opportunities for those that focus on what differentiates you and your brand from your competition. How are you demonstrating value and values to your community and finally how are you attracting talent through development opportunities in what we’d all agree is an under-celebrated industry.
Q: What is the biggest value a grocer can receive from this Council?
A: Creating lasting relationships with your peers, your vendor partners and knowing that our Council is working hard to ensure we are advocating for our business.
Q: What do you most want for CFIC?
A: To continue to grow our membership, create value for our members and to celebrate our industry.
Personal Interest and Family
Chris and his wife, Yoly, live in Florence, SC. They have two sons: Jacob, a pharmacist in Philadelphia, and Tyler, who works in Student Services at Duke University. He loves travel (Italy, France, Japan, Mexico, Germany, UK, and Belgium are among his favorites) and always roots for the University of Michigan and Detroit in whatever sport they’re playing. Chris has continued his professional development and service as a former FMI Fresh Council member, a Leadership Winston-Salem alum, and a Cornell/NGA Retail Leadership graduate. He also finds time to give back to his community by serving as a board member of the Harvest Hope Food Bank and working with the Red Cross, leading the W. Lee Flowers campus blood donation drive.