People who live in large urban areas often take for granted the seemingly endless retail options near their homes or jobs. If they can’t find an item of clothing or type of electronics or unit of furniture at one place, they can easily find another establishment to cater to their needs. Residents of smaller towns, however, do not have as many options, but they are still important consumers. With less competition, some small-town retailers might focus less on service and price – what is the consumer going to do? – but that is not the case with Michael Rossy Ltd.

In many cases, Michael Rossy Ltd. is the lone retailer in a town, but one will not find monopolist behavior at any of the Rossy locations. It is the total opposite, in fact. Having reached its 50th anniversary, Rossy has built its reputation on offering customers the highest level of service and best values.

“We are very customer-focused,” owner and President Michael DiTullio stresses. “Everything we do is to give value to our customers. We listen closely to our store employees, who listen to the needs of our customers, and all of our buying decisions are based on feedback from customers. We always bring our store employees into the mix to find out what our customers are saying, what they like and what they don’t like.”

This service culture has been constant throughout Rossy’s history, which dates back to 1910, when Syrian-born Salim Rossy immigrated to Canada and opened a general store near St. Laurent Boulevard in Montreal. He had five children, and all have been successful in retail throughout Canada. One son, Michael, established his namesake business 50 years ago, and this entity has stayed in the family as DiTullio is Michael Rossy’s son-in-law.

A regional chain, Rossy has nearly 80 variety department stores throughout Quebec, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Ontario. Its locations sell everything consumers may need, such as groceries, cleaning products, clothing, shoes, towels, bedding and electronics. The company focuses on locating in smaller communities with populations of 10,000 to 20,000 that can benefit from its store size and variety.

About 80 percent of our stores serve small, rural communities, and they need everything,” DiTullio explains. “We are often the biggest store in town, and we offer a broad selection of general merchandise.”

Customers and Neighbors

Customer service is a key strategy for Rossy because it aims to be a part of the communities where it’s located. Its locations typically employ 15 to 20 people, and the Quebec-based corporate office is in constant communication with its store employees to get their feedback and understand what customers have been saying. In fact, according to DiTullio, Store Operations Coordinator Denis Portelance is in communication with the stores all of the time to gauge customer feedback and assist with customer service issues.

“In a lot of towns, our employees are also our customers, and it’s important to us to listen to them,” DiTullio says. “Employees and customers live near each other in the same town and know each other well, and the store managers treat the stores as their own. There is a sense of loyalty to the company and to the customers because they are all neighbors. Many of the store employees have been employed with the company for over 10 years.

“The employee retention and employee loyalty that we have is a huge benefit,” he adds. “We are a stronger organization because of their tremendous amount of knowledge.”

Big Advantages

With the chain having reached 50 years in business, DiTullio is proud of Rossy’s place in the market and its ongoing ability to grow. Last year, the company had the opportunity to acquire 10 stores in Newfoundland – it completed the transaction in a month-and-a-half and had all stores open in four months. The company has seen 30 percent more business in those stores than it expected. DiTullio attributes this to Rossy’s nimble size and structure.

“One of the advantages we have over competition is that we have 80 stores but still function as a small company,” he explains. “Myself and my partner Doug Khoury (Mr.Rossy’s nephew) are involved in the day-to-day business, we listen to what our customers are saying and react quickly to the bad and the good. If merchandise doesn’t sell, we get rid of it. We are free to do what we think is best for the company and in today’s economy, you have to act fast.”

He says Rossy will continue to grow and open five to eight new stores this year. Some retailers are struggling, so the company has been finding a lot of available real estate. Additionally, Rossy is integrating improved software with a new pricing module that will help it continue to provide customers with the best value while being competitive in its markets.

“A lot of companies are struggling right now, but we are 50 years old and keep growing,” DiTullio says. “We act like a small business even as we get bigger, and we succeed because of our focus on the customers. We are proud to be able to grow in a tough economy, to provide something to these small towns and remain involved in these communities.”