Ownership and the power of paying it forward.

Suzanne Schmitz, Save A Lot Retail Partner, Western New York

Susanne Schmitz, Save A Lot Retail Partner Spotlight.

One of the best aspects of being a Save A Lot owner is our ability to focus on serving the needs of our local communities.  It’s important to me that our customers know that their local Save A Lot is more than just their hometown food store, but also a place they can rely on and trust, and we make sure that our customers can see that their stores are locally owned and operated.  When I open a store, I make it a priority to get to know everybody who walks in, and I continue to build on these relationships in the years that follow.  I bring in local items that reflect the community on our shelves – in one of my stores, for example, I recently introduced a milk produced by a co-op of local dairy farmers, and stock it right alongside our Save A Lot brand products.  I want to support the local community as much as they support us.

In this way, and many others, I truly believe in “paying it forward,” a commitment to helping others as you have been helped yourself.  This philosophy, in life and in business, is personal to me.  Because, when it comes to my development into a successful owner of five Save A Lot locations, I feel fortunate to have been given the chance of a lifetime.

I grew up in a very small town outside of Buffalo, NY called North Collins. And I mean small: our town basically didn’t have a grocery store, and it was really big news when a new Save A Lot arrived in June of 1999.  So when I needed a job that summer, I applied to be a cashier.  I met the Horrigan family, who took a chance on me as an eager but inexperienced young girl. 

You could say I’ve never left since.

I worked there all through high school (as a cashier, stocking produce, even taking over accounts payable duties for all their locations), and I continued working at a different Horrigan-owned Save A Lot, in Cheektowaga, while I attended college for my business degree. There, I became an assistant store manager, then a store manager as the location became one of the highest volume Save A Lot stores in the country.  And as the Horrigans added locations, I eventually rose to oversee all of their store operations.

I loved the grocery business, worked hard and made an impact.  I believed in myself, and knew I had the skills to run my own stores, but skill and passion don’t always lead to opportunity.

The Horrigans, however, had confidence that I could do even more.

I always wanted to own my own store, and when I found a great new location in Mt. Morris, Mike Horrigan agreed to be my partner to help me get started. That first step put me on an entirely new path. I wouldn’t just be working for a living…I now had the chance to truly own my own future.  We opened another store together. I continued to grow my knowledge of the business, and eventually opened up my first location all on my own.  Fast forward to today, and I’m the owner and operator of five locations in Western New York.

As I look back, I realize how important that moment was for me.  When the Horrigans “paid it forward” and helped to put me on the path to ownership, I was given that elusive opportunity, and I seized it.  I continue to work extremely hard, because I believe in the importance of hands-on ownership.  But I couldn’t be happier in my career. I’m what you might call a “worker bee,” and I like the fact that my employees and customers can see me meeting a truck to work the grocery load, or getting my hands dirty in the stockroom.  It’s the way the Horrigans ran their stores, and I know that it’s a key to running a successful Save A Lot. 

Ownership also gives me a sense of freedom to make my own decisions.  My boyfriend and I are huge travelers, and my position offers me the opportunity to take time when the travel bug hits us.  Later this year, once it’s safe, you’ll find us on a music cruise (we love the Old 97’s, a great alternative country band), or in Hawaii for a summer getaway.

But perhaps most importantly, my success has now given me the opportunity to pay it forward, just like the Horrigans did for me so many years ago.  A young woman named Jessica Newman, who began working for me in Cheektowaga at age 16 as a cashier (sound familiar?) and quickly rose to store management, is now a part-owner of our store in North Tonawanda.  She’s as passionate as I am about the business, and I couldn’t be happier to help put her on her own path to ownership and success.

Because neighbors and friends take care of each other.  And I’m proud to be a part of the Save A Lot family, building hometown food stores that help feed families, give back to their communities, and yes, build long and successful careers.

Suzanne Schmitz is the owner and operator of five Save A Lot locations in Western New York.