When I think about my experiences in the grocery business, I think first about family, food, and service.
My grandfather started the family business in 1938 with a meat shop and processing plant, and eventually became the highest volume IGA store in the country in the 1970’s. My father eventually took over, and became involved with Save A Lot in the 1990s. I worked in the business through high school and college, earning an income and helping my dad, but thought I wanted to take a different path. So I set about trying to find my place in the world, and majored in law enforcement before joining the United States Air Force in 1995.
The years have seen changes for sure. My father always talked about how the pace has increased, that it’s harder to keep up with today’s consumer than it used to be. But to me, that’s all about getting to know your community, and talking to your customers about their needs and their interests. In fact, there’s nothing I enjoy more than talking to customers about recipes and the festivities around food! I love the challenge of looking for ingredients and specialty items to help complete their shopping lists, to make that one important dish.
And that’s what makes running a Save A Lot so special. The program provides what an owner needs to build a platform. In our store, I purchase everything possible from the Save A Lot warehouse, and follow their marketing programs. But you also have the flexibility to make independent choices. It’s important to balance your assortment with unique items that are created locally or may have more demand in your town or neighborhood. It’s a balancing act, but finding that sweet spot is what it takes to succeed.
I run my business with purpose, which isn’t always easy. There are two types of people in this world: ones who serve themselves and ones who serve others. Operating a grocery business allows me to serve my community. I enjoy helping people feed their families, making food affordable with great quality that taste amazing while giving them a friendly face. We support local food pantries and animal shelters for those who need a boost. I am truly blessed with this opportunity.
It’s clear more than ever how important this work really is. The pandemic has shown how essential our grocery stores have become. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve spoken to recently at our store who have thanked us for what we’re providing to them. They’re shocked at how much money they’re saving now that they’re cooking more at home and shopping with us at Save A Lot.
My advice to those thinking about getting into the business: Be passionate and go all in to keep your awareness at its peak. Prepare to work hard. Make mistakes, but learn from them (as my father once told me: “You can make your mistakes, just try and do your best to not let them be too expensive.”). And find joy in knowing that you’re serving to better the lives of not just you and your family, but the families of the neighborhood you’re in. Living a life of service, what can be better than that? Nothing.
Todd Martin is a third-generation grocery store owner who operates a Save A Lot store in Effingham, Illinois.