Many say every ship needs a strong captain, and for Vallarta Supermarkets Inc., a store is nothing without the skills of a competent manager to guide it through the rocky waves of daily business. “[We believe] that all the success we may enjoy is 100 percent attributable to [our] ability to attract and develop high-performing management and supervisors,” COO Kurt Erickson says.

Based in Sylmar, Calif., Vallarta Supermarkets operates 41 stores in its home state that specialize in traditional and Hispanic food items, including fresh-made tortillas, salsas and Latin-style cheeses. Founder Enrique Gonzalez Sr. started Vallarta Supermarkets in 1985.

A native of Mexico, Gonzalez grew up on a subsistence farm with his four brothers. When the chance came to immigrate to the United States, Gonzalez’s family took it. He eventually opened the first Vallarta store in Van Nuys, Calif.

In 1986, Gonzalez opened a second location, which he started with the involvement of his five brothers. Today, Vallarta Supermarkets employs a staff of approximately 8,000 and has locations in Ventura, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Kern, San Diego, Tulare, and Orange and Fresno counties.

“[We] provide our customers with a wide variety of traditional and Latin items at great prices in conjunction with well-stocked, sparkling clean stores,” Vice President of Procurement and Marketing Ray Jones says. “We work to place [our key items] in easy-to-find areas and strive to effectively cross-merchandise as much as possible.”

Vallarta Supermarkets provides high-quality products, Erickson says, since they can affect where a customer decides to shop. “Categories such as water, beer, soda, isotonics, energy drinks, etc., are high-demand consumer items with very competitive price points,” he says. “We reset these departments frequently and bring in new items on a very regular basis.”

Energy drinks have been strong sellers. “This category is constantly reinventing itself,” he notes. “The high volume in this category has suppliers constantly investing in new products to grow the categories.”

Streamlining Operations

Vallarta Supermarkets recently made investments of its own in new technology. “We look at as many [IT] products as we can,” Director of IT Russ Jones says. “We are very selective in that it must be a good fit with existing company operations.”

Vallarta Supermarkets recently purchased electronic back door receiving and warehouse management software that has added efficiencies and brought it more control over its operations. The company is now considering streamlining its receiving process, as well automating its accounting. It also has invested in technology for its loss prevention program, Director of Loss Prevention Javier Leal says. “We’re in the process of implementing Retalix’s Cashier Analyzer,” he says. “We’re also implementing a WREN software program for the auditors to move more quickly and accurately record their findings on their iPads.”

With this technology, Scan Supervisor Erica Gonzalez says, the company can produce void reports that tally the missing items in its stores. In addition, Vallarta Supermarkets can produce reports about excess items that need to be held at a lower retail.

Developing Its Own

After nearly 30 years, Vallarta Supermarkets remains a family oriented organization, thanks to the close leadership of the Gonzalez family. “The owners are 100 percent hands-on in every aspect of the business and are involved in all significant decisions,” Senior Operations Manager Jose Cordero says.

Under the family’s leadership, Vallarta Supermarkets has promoted heavily from within. Over the years, Cordero notes, the Gonzalez family has successfully filled approximately 90 percent of the firm’s management positions with long-time employees.

“We like to develop our own,” he states. “[We have] high regard for the individual and [are] very open to progressive ideas.”

Director of Human Resources Liz Llamas adds that the company has a high rate of employee retention, as well. “Through the years, we have significantly reduced turnover and never stop evaluating opportunities to keep improving it,” she says.

One of these initiatives includes an HR/safety monthly compliance meeting to help managers improve their skills. “At first it was a challenge to have every manager on board to attend every meeting,” she says. “[This was] not because they did not care, but because they were always focused on their department standards and service.

 “After a while, and with operations support, they have come to understand the value of this information,” Llamas says. “These meetings help them prepare for better communications with their employees, better understanding of what they need to monitor and coach their team members.”

Vallarta Supermarkets recently provided an in-house Dale Carnegie Leadership Class to its store directors and supervisors. “This was provided in an effort to help them further develop leadership and people skills and help them become more confident, competent and effective leaders,” Erickson says. “We know our ability to grow is totally dependent on our ability to develop high-performing managers and supervisors.”

Erickson sees only more continued improvement for Vallarta Supermarkets. He says the company will continue to build and develop its leadership, while providing growth opportunities and maintaining strong customer service and value. “We see a bright future [with] continued growth and success,” he states. “It is an uphill climb all the way.”

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