Driving eastbound towardCanastota, N.Y., I caught sightof Grazianos, a quaint andunassuming restaurant on Highway90 frequented by the executive teamof Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes. Itwas there that I had the pleasure ofspeaking with company founder JohnMacDougall, senior executive vicepresident Fran Duskiewicz and executive vice president PeterTamburro.
MacDougall, who has served as president and CEO since the companys inception in 1980, has built a chain with a well-deserved reputation for its quality and distinction in the marketplace, as well as its exceptional customer service.
During our dinner conversation, Duskiewicz elaborated on the rich history and culture at Nice N Easy.
CSD: What has been your greatest success since opening 26 years ago?
Our success has always been defined by the quality people we attract and retain. These people love to serve others, work hard, achieve goals and then celebrate reaching them. Our culture has been built around doing just that and because success breeds success, we have always been able to attract even more outstanding people. That culture appeals to our customer base.
CSD: When you look back at your history, what accomplishment brings you the most pride?
Duskiewicz: Again, it goes back to those people we hired 10, 15, 20 years ago who believed in us and have stayed with us because we kept them motivated and growing. Because so many of them were quite young when we hired them, we have a terrific base of young professionals in their mid-30s who are very experienced and professional. That, along with the fact that they are so devoted to Nice N Easy, makes us the most proud.
CSD: What incentives and opportunities are employees offered?
Duskiewicz: In terms of opportunities, we like to identify talent as soon as possible and create a career path for it. The growth of our foodservice program has given us more management opportunities than ever. Our more senior management has been able to buy properties, create LLCs, build stores and do leasebacks to the corporate group.
We offer incentives for just about everything. Years ago our managers use to kill themselves to win a big screen TV. Now we award a new vehicle to the top corporate manager each year. Not only has that been a great incentive, its been loads of fun as the year draws to a close. Monthly report cards that roll up to quarterly bonuses are also great incentives for us.
CSD: What experience taught you the most about operating stores successfully?
Duskiewicz: Because we started with few assets, including earning only half the fuel income of most of our competitors because of commission deals, we had to be more creative, more frugal and more efficient in everything we did. We embraced technology very early in our history because we saw it as a way to level the playing field. We were able to do more with less and always have data to make sound decisions kept us in the game when we didnt have too much else with which to work. Even after becoming very successful, weve never changed our approach from those tough early days.
CSD: What past decision would you not repeat, if you had the opportunity to do it again?
Duskiewicz: There have been times when we bought other peoples junk and it has always been a mistake. Everyday we look at stores or chains that are for sale and pass on them because they simply do not fit where we are right now in terms of image, size or demographic.
CSD: What is the critical differentiator between Nice N Easy and some other convenience stores?
Duskiewicz: We preach the Quality Experience all the time. We want there to be something, be it product, people, prices, or just plain convenience that impresses customers every time they walk into ourstore. We have plenty of stores out there that arent palaces, but we still want the customer to walk out saying, What a great store! and sometimes that can be accomplished simply by a smiling face at the register.
CSD: What are some of the biggest challenges youre facing?
Duskiewicz: Keeping up with costs and rising expenses. Sooner or later inflation will have to rear its ugly head in our retail pricing but as long as we can control our costs we can keep inflation at bay. Building new stores is a challenge. The costs of new construction have risen so much that the bar of how successful a new store must be to justify being built has jumped dramatically.
CSD: Have you seen an increase in sales since branding proprietary products under the Nice N Easy label?
Duskiewicz: Absolutely. In fact, these products, whether foodservice or fuel, are our greatest source of growth. We have made a commitment to make our brand the most prevalent from the road to the pumps to the interior of the store. When that approach is married to a high image facility, low fuel prices and outstanding food products, you can establish your own brand as quality very quickly.
CSD: What are some of the hottest trends you are seeing in your stores today?
Duskiewicz: Our current push to go fresh is paying huge dividends. The produce sections weve placed in many stores are very successful and have helped redefine our image. The expanded Easy Street Eatery foodservice departments are surpassing many of our other total stores in sales volume.
CSD: Does Nice N Easy have a common customer demographic?
Duskiewicz: We dont, but we do love country intersections and small towns. Something about our program connects with those folks. Our new store prototype is a big hit in high-income areas and that is a demographic weve yet to mine very successfully, but were anxious to try.
CSD: What do you want your consumers to think as they are leaving your store?
Duskiewicz: That they have shopped in someplace special and very different. Wed like to see a thought balloon over their head saying, Im glad I shopped here.
CSD: What would you tell a new operator that plans to open a convenience store?
Duskiewicz: Do whatever you can to separate yourself from the competition in terms of image and product selection, invest in technology wisely and be as creative as your limited size will allow you to be.
CSD: What do you want the trade to know about Nice N Easy?
Duskiewicz: That we are a first-class organization with a very long history of success. That despite doing business in tough part of the country with unreasonable competition from many Native American outlets around us, that we have not only survived, weve thrived. That in no way, shape or form do we measure success by the number or stores we operate. And our mission statementBe Nice. Sell Stuff. And Have Fun.