The grocery store business is a competitive one and wherever there is competition, the temptation to adopt gimmicks is ever-present. But if there’s one thing that the Vowell family has proven, it is that it’s possible to flourish just by sticking to good old-fashioned values.
The family owned and operated Triple V – the corporate parent of Vowell’s Marketplace, Vowell’s Fresh Market and Cash Saver by Vowell’s – was founded in 1945 by E.L. Vowell Sr. and wife, Elizabeth Vowell. Sons, brothers – along with their sons and daughters – and other family members joined the fold and the company was incorporated in 1979. Today, the family runs 19 grocery stores in Alabama and Mississippi, with five of those recently opened in September.
Triple V purchased the five newest grocery stores –previously owned by Belle Foods – and brought them into the Vowell’s family as two new Vowell’s Fresh Markets, two Vowell’s Market Places and one Cash Saver by Vowell’s. The company revamped the stores to reflect its own values and stand on the company’s four core principles: faith in God, faith in family, faith in country and faith in fellow man.
“Belle Foods was exiting the market, and AWG, which is one of our suppliers, was the master buyer,” explains Todd Vowell, third-generation owner/operator and president. “Independents such as ourselves bought the stores that they felt were strategic to their existing store groups. The stores had very good personnel – they are very able and very service-oriented. However, our approach was to come in with added variety, lower prices and a fresh-focused program. We oriented the stores to become more fresh-focused in the produce, meat, deli and bakery departments.”
Because the stores already boasted grade-A customer service, Triple V focused its attention on the product. As Vowell was taught at an early age, in the grocery business you have “to push perishables or perish.” The meat department offers a large variety of Pick-5 meats, Certified Angus Beef, grade-A poultry products, U.S.-inspected pork products and a large variety of U.S.-raised fish and seafood products. The produce department is fully stocked with premium fruits and vegetables. The deli and bakery departments provide fresh baked goods, fresh-cooked meal solutions and freshly made salads and sandwiches daily.
“These are things that on which our company was founded and we continue to emphasize their importance today,” Vowell stresses. “It goes all the way back to my grandfather – ‘push perishables or perish.’ So we really strive to maximize quality, freshness, variety and price in the perishables department. Those fresh categories are what we really strive to do better than anyone else. We also put a big emphasis on customer service because it’s so uncommon in today’s retail environment. We still bag the groceries and offer to carry the groceries to the customer’s car.”
That kind of customer service and fresh food program doesn’t come without its price, however, so Triple V has set up an operation that’s low on overhead and high on value. For instance, for the past few years the company has been retrofitting its older locations with energy-efficient features such as new HVAC units, refrigeration equipment and lighting.
“Our original group of stores have all been remodeled within the last five years and the newer stores we are remodeling as needed,” Vowell says. “We still have my grandfather’s first store in Noxapater, Miss., so you can imagine for a company that’s been around since 1945, we realize the importance of providing a fresh, clean and bright shopping experience for our patrons.”
This is not only an investment in the community and environment, but also the savings in avoided energy costs allows Triple V to offer better retail prices to its customers, which Vowell says is crucial in today’s economy. In recent years, Triple V has seen a rise in private-label purchases.
“We’ve noticed a tradeoff to more of the private-label products due to their lower prices,” Vowell says. “We’ve also noticed people buying more fresh products since people seem to be cooking at home rather than going to restaurants. It’s very indicative of the tough economic times right now.”
As customers have cut back, Triple V strives to provide shoppers with what they need, when they need it and at affordable prices. Each banner caters to its local market to provide a grocery store that meets the unique needs of the community.
“We have a very low level of corporate hierarchy and that is very deliberate on our part,” Vowell explains. “We want the stores to be flexible so they can quickly respond to the customers’ needs. If a customer comes in and needs a certain kind of raspberry preserve, the store manager contacts our supplier to figure out a way to meet the customer’s specific need. We feel this is the best method to prevent the customer from waiting on an answer from corporate. We purposefully allow our stores to be independent activity centers.”