For more than 40 years, Manning’s Food For Less has sold groceries to its customers, changing the format to cost plus 10 percent nine years ago. This approach allows the company to differentiate itself in the market with its low prices on trusted national grocery brands.

“Customers are tired of long lines and walking a mile from their parking spot,” General Manager KC Constantine says. “Customer service and our focus on perishable items are what makes us strong, because those areas are neglected by the bigger stores.”

Founded in 1971, the Alabama-based chain has nine locations, all in Mobile County. Owned by Danny Manning and operated by the Manning family, the company employs about 300 people.

Manning’s Food For Less prides itself on Southern hospitality and friendly service, as well as its high-quality standards on fresh produce and fresh meat. Its produce department carries a seasonal variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, delivered daily by local farmers. In addition, the company offers fresh meat.

Playing to Win

The company’s biggest competition comes from big-box stores, which have been a particular threat to chain stores in the Mobile County area. But small independents such as Manning’s Food For Less have managed to carve out a niche, thanks to a quality commitment and cost-plus philosophy.

“Big-box stores have essentially eliminated the chains, and that gave more space to the independents like us,” Constantine says. “But we are aware of the box stores  and  the dollar stores as a threat, as they have become a solid competitor.”

Manning’s Food For Less has taken the steps needed to continue to provide a high-quality shopping environment. It has invested in improving the lighting systems and floors at all stores, as well as installing new equipment in its frozen food areas.

“In the past, independent grocery stores couldn’t afford new equipment and always had to buy used,” Constantine says. “But buying new equipment saves money and energy over time, and the customer loves it because it improves their shopping experience.”

Manning’s Food For Less also has done away with frills and flourishes – such as seafood and flower sections – in favor of an old-fashioned grocery store approach that focuses on grocery, meat and produce.

“Customers come to us because they want an item they need as they need it,” Constantine says. “We can cut meat to suit each customer’s needs, and those kinds of services make us strong. We buy local, hire local and keep our money local.”

Manning’s Food For Less strives to create and maintain tight bonds with customers and suppliers. On the supply side, the company has gathered with other independents to enhance buying power. “They can provide us pricing that can help us compete, and we can work together with them to bring their items into our stores,” Constatine says.

As for building ties to customers, Constantine says it is all about communication. Manning’s Food For Less goes out of its way to strike up conversations with customers so it can understand their needs.

“We don’t just put what buyers want us to have in our stores; we put what the customer wants,” he says. “We communicate with them, because the customer wants you to hear them. We make time for that.”

Future Focus

Constantine says Manning’s Food For Less is looking forward with optimism. The company saw solid revenues and a strong profit margin over the last year, and is showing an 8 to 10 percent increase in revenues the first quarter of its new fiscal year. The company has strong forward momentum, and is poised for growth in part because it doesn’t have a top-heavy, multilayered approach to management.

“We don’t have a lot of cost on top,” he says. “We can do business at a lower cost than out competitors because we have a tight, lean leadership structure, and our stores are located in the right places.”

In the long run, Constantine believes the company needs to keep doing what has made it successful. This should help Manning’s Food For Less expand its footprint. In fact, the company is planning to add a few more stores to its arsenal. One, or possibly two, new stores should come online in 2013. The long-range plan is to grow to about 20 locations. Manning’s Food For Less is committed to its cost-plus approach, quality merchandise and service-first mentality that have helped the company succeed for decades.

“This company is a locally and family owned business that provides clean, well-stocked stores to our communities,” Constantine says. “There is nothing fancy about what we do, but our customers react favorably to our model.”