Buy for Less/Uptown Grocery Co.
“If you were to walk into Uptown, you’ll see how I’m a designer and builder married to the grocery guy,” President of Development Susan Binkowski says. “He’s an exceptional grocer and kills himself on price. We have this extraordinary extravagant building with rock bottom prices. You have this ‘ooh-ah’ building with comfy couches of white leather, like a hipster hotel. People wonder why we don’t charge more but it’s that investment perspective. We’re all about luxurious low prices.”
The Binkowskis say they’re obsessed with their customers and want to be an integral part of each Oklahoma City neighborhood so each person feels welcomed in their stores. So, how do they attract customers who may not know what the varieties of stores have to offer?
“That’s the million dollar question because we’re all creatures of habit,” Susan says. “It’s amazing how you have that slice of pie of the community that will drive all the way across town more than 30 minutes away, or you could have folks that wont go farther than two miles. My husband is the fiercest at having great pricing and ads, but we all shop convenience.”
As people tend to be creatures of habit, the company is challenged to draw in new customers and make their grocery shopping easier overall via word of mouth, ads or its website. The Binkowskis emphasize that they’re not experts and are still learning more every day.
“It’s so easy to default to what you know, but we want to do well by everyone that comes in,” Hank explains. “We are always welcoming and wow customers with something, whether it’s pricing or merchandising. You try to really be intuitive in what guests are looking for and that needs to be part of word of mouth. This is a market focused on pricing, so we try to make a deep mission out of pricing as well. Each store is its own marketplace and tied to the community it’s in and we try to be the best merchant [there].”
But both admit that sometimes they can make mistakes, whether with an incorrectly marked price or items getting restocked on the shelf more slowly than usual. The important part for the company is to make up for it with excellent service and an even better experience on the next visit. “Our guests forgive us when we mess up,” Hank says. “We always preach that if you love us, tell us the bad news. That’s where you find respect over the years. We have people that tell us glowing, wonderful stuff and others that say, ‘Hey, you had an off day but you guys care and tried to make it better.’ We’ve spent 28 years in the Oklahoma City metro and people will still forgive us because we’re not perfect and we’ll make it up next time. “
The employees are what make the business great, according to the Binkowskis. They are happy to hire anyone who is committed to serving the company’s diverse customer base. “We want to lead with our face and say that by investing in every community, everyone is important and worthy and deserving of the same things in every neighborhood,” Susan says.
The company does this by giving second-chance opportunities to people such as those coming out of incarceration. Susan says the company adopts them as one of their own family members and partners with them, allowing them to re-develop their job skills and social relationships. “We’ve had so many extraordinary stories that would make you well up because it’s someone’s real life,” she continues. “Someone that shops with us will know a family member of the person we hired and tell us they’re ecstatic that this person got an opportunity and we weren’t prejudiced against them.”
Creating a family oriented business means the Binkowskis are extremely hands-on in their management approach. Hank especially spends a lot of his personal time with new recruits, an unusual approach for a CEO. “Nobody steps foot on the floor until Hank has given them orientation,” Susan says. “If they leave feeling like we’re trying to change the world, that’s the wow factor. That comes from his investment of the time to speak to every single one of them.”
“We really stress with our employees that we’re in the people business and we still like to maintain that we’re a family business,” Hank adds. “We have people passionate about what we do. Our fellow team members catch the vision of leadership. That’s something we’ve worked really hard at the last several years and it’s interesting to see all levels of leadership that’s grown up in our organization. It’s not positional. We’re fortunate and blessed to have some people that have the same vision we do.”
The company wants everyone to feel included because employees are an integral part of all of the stores’ success. “Hank and I don’t do this alone,” Susan explains. “We have passionate discourse, and it’s OK to disagree with us. That really allows us to see that you’re never going to get the best ideas if you think yours are the best in the room. We’re imperfect leaders, and we’re a married couple. They’re fantastic people and we’re better for them. Thank God we don’t have to decide everything on our own.”
The employee dedication all ties back to the company’s obsession with the customer. If they’re passionate about their work, they can better serve the people and tailor that service to each neighborhood. “We have some of the best employees in the world,” Hank says. “We have people that will walk across flaming hot coals to please a guest. They feel like they’re a part of something special, not just another retailer. We make a mission out of making leaders in our organization. We’re focused on the guest and even more focused on the employees that are with us because they can help fulfill the vision if they believe in it.”