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MANHATTAN, Kan. – In 2007, Kansas State University faculty working with the university’s newly formed Center for Engagement and Community Development identified the closing of local grocery stores, citizens’ subsequent inability to access a variety of foods, and economic losses to communities as an emerging issue in the state.
Since that time, 82 grocery stores in the state have closed, according to David Procter, director of the center. And, while many are located in rural areas, urban neighborhoods also are suffering.
Procter, who noted that grocery stores typically anchor community and neighborhood business districts, said the loss of a grocery store affects other businesses, as grocery shoppers might also plan a stop at the local hardware store, bank business, or insurance office.
Lost revenue affects an entire community, he said.
After a fire destroyed the grocery store in Onaga, Kan., Bob Cole, Pottawatomie County economic development director, said that Onaga was losing about $20,000 per year from lost sales tax revenues.
K-State’s CECD has hosted three grocery summits in working to address the issue and assist communities seeking to strengthen or re-open a grocery store. A fourth summit is being planned in 2014.
The work is ongoing, and Procter noted that many Kansas communities are capitalizing on strengths, such as offering locally-grown foods and making customer service a priority – strengths that set them apart from big box stores.
Ray’s Apple Markets, a family-owned, Kansas-based store that prides itself on offering a variety of health-promoting food and community-based customer service, is an example.
Customer Service is a Family’s Priority
For the Floersch family, there’s no such thing as a typical day.
As the owners of Ray’s Apple Market, a local grocery store serving Manhattan, Kan., Mike, Aaron and Tom Floersch strive to provide “modern stores with old-fashioned service.”
The trio is following in the steps of Ray Floersch, the father of Mike and Tom and grandfather of Aaron, who started the business nearly 48 years ago. These grocers work to remain competitive with other chain grocers in town by maintaining relationships with their customers and the local community.
“We were brought up that way,” Mike Floersch said. “We think it’s a basic; it’s a thank you for shopping with us.”
The roots of customer service run deep in the family-operated store and are emphasized during employee training and store management. Employees will carry out groceries for shoppers and prioritize conversation with the consumer – two practices the Floersch’s say make their store unique.
“We have the eight-foot rule. If somebody is within eight feet of you, you speak to them,” Mike Floersch said. “It’s what we expect when you come and work for us.”
But friendly relationships with customers are only the beginning of this store’s focus on the consumer.
Ray’s Apple Market is a full-service grocery store, with a bakery, deli, coffee shop, free Wi-Fi, and video kiosk. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the deli provides all-you-can-eat dinner deals, with chicken, ribs and side dishes, as well as daily specials, such as preservative-free salads made onsite.
The store’s meat department is also internal, with all of the cuts and packaging taking place within Ray’s, Mike Floersch said.
And, if there is a grocery item a customer wants but the store doesn’t have, they will special order it for that customer, he said.
The store’s services also extend beyond foods, as the Manhattan stores sell Kansas State University and Manhattan merchandise, and offer a dry-cleaning drop-off and pick-up service with a local provider.
Ray’s also has hosted events in the store, such as a customer appreciation carnival, free ice-cream social, and “Donuts with Dad” on Father’s Day, when children can decorate donuts with their fathers. The store has also brought in the Easter Bunny and Tow Mater, the truck from the movie “Cars.”
While these events are hosted to attract customers, they are also held to thank local customers and “put a little more fun into grocery shopping,” Tom Floersch said.
Though the focus is on the customer, attention also is directed toward impacting the community. As the owners, Aaron Floersch said it is easier to make decisions regarding community donations or requests because the request doesn’t have to travel to the corporate level in another city.
“We support a lot of things people don’t even know about. It’s a lot of little things,” Mike Floersch said. “We try and stay connected to our customers’ needs.”
Earlier this month the store provided grocery carts for a food collection event and gave tours of the store to elementary students.
Ray’s Apple Markets also uses its deli to assist organizations with fundraising, allowing groups to take home a portion of the night’s profits.
And while features and events are the norm at the store, the family trio prides themselves most in the quality of their groceries, Mike Floersch said.
“We have a passion for the business. We feel like if you put your heart and soul into it and mean what you say, people will return,” he said. “We do it the best we know how.”
The Floersch family also provides hometown service in a smaller downtown store located in Manhattan, and in Ray’s Apple Markets in St. Marys, Clay Center, Seneca, and Council Grove (all in Kansas), and in Fairbury, Neb.
More information about local grocery stores, access to food, and effect on community health is available at K-State’s Center for Engagement and Community Development at 785-532-6868 and online, also, on Rural Grocery Store Initiative.