A slice of “Seacoast Pizza,” a “Boathouse Bacon Burger” and a “Rockland Roast Beef” sandwich sound like menu items from a restaurant somewhere on the coast. It’s partly true – the location is in coastal Rockland, Maine – but the food is from the menu of a local convenience store deli.
Maritime Farms offers customers a change from the typical convenience store selections, says Charon Curtis, operations manager. Lighthouse Delis inside each of the convenience stores are decorated with farm and water themes, including harbor images. “The graphics and décor in our stores are unique,” Curtis says. “We are always adding new items to our deli. Recently we added the macaroni & cheese pizza.” The delis offer a range of freshly made items including specialty pizzas, burgers, sandwiches and breakfast items.
The deli is not the only jaw-dropper in the stores – the company carries more than 500 wine, 300 liquor and 400 beer SKUs in the “Townline Beverage Barn,” Curtis says. The Barn has a 17-door walk-in cooler to house the beverages.
A broad liquor selection such as Maritime Farms’ is hard to come by in an average convenience store. These extra features are a way for the company to compete with the bigger players in the area, such as Wal-Mart. “We have nine stores compared to thousands,” Curtis explains. “We don’t have the buying power [larger chains] do. Our area has been impacted by the economy and we are trying to remain competitive and turn a profit.”
Adapting and Listening
The company started out as a service station and local heating oil distributor in 1939 called Maritime Oil. Today, Maritime Energy focuses on supplying heating to homes and businesses. Maritime Farms is the branch of the company that focuses on the convenience stores.
The company was founded by Roland G. Ware and will eventually pass to his granddaughter, Susan Ware Page, who is the current vice president. “The convenience store and energy businesses are two very dynamic industries," Page says. "Joining the family business several years ago as a young female, I realized the only way I was going to be an effective third-generation leader was to gain the respect of others by proving myself. I tell my team that I don't have all the answers, but I'm confident that when we put our minds together that we will make the best decisions possible."
The company has stayed in business for more than 70 years also because of its ability to adapt to market changes quickly, says Kathleen Labree, district manager. “When I came here six years ago, I was impressed we were one of the first to carry biodiesel fuel in mid-coast Maine,” she notes as one of the forward-thinking products offered. “We stay abreast of all the new items, from the newest candy bar to the newest liquor available.” Maritime Farms also offers different products in each of its locations. “We adapt to what the customers request and listen to what they request,” Labree adds. “Each store is not a cookie-cutter of another.”
Employee satisfaction is a top priority at Maritime Farms. Labree emphasizes that if employees are happy, customers will be, too. “I view the store managers and employees as my customers,” Labree says. “I want to know how I can make their jobs easier. The easier I can make their jobs the better for everyone.”
To encourage employees to excel in their positions, incentives such as the new “Beacon Award” have been implemented. The award is given quarterly and gives the winning store company-wide recognition and the entire crew is given a monetary award. To win the award, the store must be the best in metrics such as profitability, waste management and inspections, Labree says.
“The winning store’s crew gets paid 25 cents for each hour they worked in that entire quarter,” Labree says. “It’s amazing what this did for store waste and portion control for each deli product. We figure this program paid for itself in the first 90 days.” Other tokens of appreciation include $10 gift cards for store merchandise and anniversary and birthday cards from management. “A major part of our culture is respect and care for our employees,” Curtis adds.
As a family owned business in Rockland, Maritime Farms likes to give back to the community and organizations that impact its employees. The convenience store locations are open to Girl Scouts selling cookies, peewee football players hosting fundraisers and the 4-H Club hosting car washes. “Because of our size it’s easy to say ‘yes,’ if they have adult supervision,” Curtis says. “We like having the kids around.”
To help community members in need, Maritime Farms hosts “Hot Coffee for a Warm Community” and donates a portion of its coffee profits to help residents in the winter months who struggle to pay their heating oil bills.
The annual Karen’s Run/Walk for Cancer, held in September, was started by Page in memory of her mother, Karen Ware. The event raises money for cancer research and the company’s “Energy 4 Life” program, which assists employees and their families, who may be battling cancer. The company also holds a golf tournament to raise money for the Maine Cancer Foundation. In the 20 years hosting the tournament, Maritime has raised more than $300,000 for charity.
Labree and Curtis note that ultimately their advice is to work hard but have fun. “Focus on the business yet don’t take yourself too seriously,” Curtis adds. “You have to laugh every day; a sense of humor is mandatory.” O