Written by The Business Journal Staff
Education: Two years at Eastern Washington University, one year at Western Michigan University in the food marketing program.
Family: Michelle, wife. Two sons — Billy, who will manage the new store with wife Danielle, and Elliott. And one daughter — Micayla.
I understand your family owned a grocery store when you were growing up. Did you always plan on having a career in the grocery business, Mike?
I tried to get out and it’s called me back. I was doing energy conservation and I had a territory. We were living in eastern Washington in the Tri-Cities area, which is along the Columbia River, and I would travel 300 miles north and 300 miles south doing energy conservation, because there is so much conservation that can be done with a grocery store. I would visit with two Grocery Outlets up there and both the operators told me, “Mike, with your background and what you know about grocery stores, we are looking to grow and we need guys with grocery-specific experience and know how to run their own business.”
How did you end up doing this in Fresno, Mike?
This is my third time in the grocery business. I grew up in the family business, and then got out. We wanted to get back in it, so we got our own store and ran it for seven years. But as independents, it’s just so hard to compete with guys like Winco and Walmart and every big box store from a pricing standpoint. Then I got into the energy conservation and started researching Grocery Outlet and what they do and talked to Michelle about it. We wanted something we could do as a family that we could own and operate together, wherever this journey takes us. We didn’t know where we’d end up. We got into the program in January, and in May this store became available. We came and looked at it and we had to write a business plan for this specific store. Most people don’t believe this, but this area looks just like eastern Washington — it’s agricultural, it’s flatland, it’s hot, it’s dry, it’s all those things. We look around and we said, “We think there is an opportunity here. We can live here.” Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d live in California and afford to buy a house, but Fresno is an affordable place. We put together a business plan and they chose us.
Through the recession has your store remained stable financially, Mike?
Because of the way we buy and the fact that we buy opportunistically, we’re essentially your Overstock.com of the grocery industry. Any given day you can find something significantly marked down. For example, we’re selling some wine that sold at Sam’s Club for $7 and we’re selling it for $3.99. You can find some detergent, you can find paper towels. About 80 percent of what we sell here has been bought opportunistically — so it was an overstock for somebody or Costco denied it or Walmart said we have enough. Whatever it happens to be, there becomes an overstock of a product and Grocery Outlet purchases it. These prices are very attractive to people.
So has the recession been beneficial to your business, Mike?
Sadly, yes. People are becoming more frugal. They’ll still spend their dollar, but they will stretch it and make it go further, so they can spend in whichever other venue they would like to.
Because you base your model so much on opportunistic buying, is there ever a shortage of opportunistic opportunities, Mike?
Good question. Everyone asks that. When they get into the training program, you go to the corporate headquarters and speak with all the vice presidents, and that’s a question they get all the time. That’s a question we had, too, and we asked where does this supply end and they literally said “We only look at 25 percent of what is presented to us. There is that much out there.” There are only about four or five companies out there that do what we do.
What was your first job growing up and what did you learn from it, Mike?
Sweeping the parking lot at my dad’s store, and every stall had to get swept. I spent a lot of time with my dad because we were located in the center of the state and our stores were to the north and to the south, 150 miles both ways, and we spent a lot of time together in the summer going to those stores. I’d say, “Hey, I want to go with you today.” We would go and build stores, and I was in the backroom and rode with him for the day. But that was our life. There were seven kids in the family and every one of us has worked in it.