C&K Market Inc.

C&K Market Inc. has three brands of stores: Ray’s Food Place, a full-service grocery store; Shop Smart, the company’s warehouse format; and C&K Market, a smaller grocery format. Wissmann estimates that approximately half of the company’s 43 stores are located in communities with populations of fewer than 5,000 people. Usually, Ray’s Food Places are located in smaller communities than Shop Smarts.

The average size of a Ray’s Food Place is approximately 24,000 square feet. The single C&K location is a little more than 7,000 square feet, and the average Shop Smart is 32,000 square feet, although the largest is 55,000 square feet. “We want to have a pretty broad appeal and offer a large variety and good representation of private-label products,” Wissmann emphasizes. “What we don’t want to do is pigeonhole ourselves in going after one segment.”

Products in C&K Market’s stores are priced competitively. “Our warehouse stores are more price-conscious,” Wissmann notes. “We have specials that run for longer lengths of time and a larger offering of private-label items. A typical warehouse store has fewer SKUs.” Private-label products under the Everyday Essentials brand are obtained through C&K Markets’ wholesaler, SuperValu. 

Kretschmar deli meats and cheeses are carried by C&K Markets along with Certified Angus Beef Brand. “We have some competitors that offer Angus or have an Angus program, but none that carry Certified Angus Beef Brand like we do,” Wissmannn maintains.

Differentiating Itself

Wissmannn understands that nowadays, households have shopping patterns that include multiple stores for groceries. “In most cases, you’ll have a family that will do their shopping weekly at the local grocery store,” Wissmann explains. “Then – maybe once a month or every few weeks – they are going to make a run to a Walmart Supercenter, Costco or other big-box store.

“Our goal is to differentiate ourselves from them, to have a larger variety, create more excitement and emphasize quality and local products,” he stresses. “That’s the direction we’re heading. We want them to buy more when they shop with us. And then we are going to give them more of what they want and have a better offering than the big-box stores.”

To compete against an influx beginning approximately three years ago of big-box competitors, C&K Markets is trying to increase its customers’ shopping frequency, which had fallen off when the big-boxes arrived.

“We’re seeing that turn around by being unique,” Wissmann declares. “One of the programs that we’ve instituted is a customer request program. We go out of our way to get what the customer wants and make sure to call the customer within two days to let them know the status of their request, so they know we’re concerned about what they want.”

Remerchandising the Stores

C&K Markets is planning to roll out a natural pork program in the next month and bring salad bars, hot food tables, grab-and-go items and sushi to many of their stores. The stores are also remerchandising their departments and bringing in a larger variety of original items. Some are being identified with signage as Ray’s Healthy Living selections, which indicate healthy attributes such as whether a product is low-sodium, organic, GMO-free, low-calorie or gluten-free.

Instead of having a separate natural or healthy food section, all types of products such as healthy breakfast cereal will be located in the same aisle with the rest of the cereal offerings. “We’re integrating these healthy products to enable an easy shopping experience by helping customers locate what products will help them achieve their health goals,” Wissmannn explains.

C&K Markets’ remerchandising efforts aim to add from 2,500 to 4,000 new products to the stores, many of which are healthy, specialty or gourmet items. “Our goal is to not lose any items we currently carry but just add to our current product line by cutting down on existing facings,” Wissmannn asserts. “We’re in the middle of a pretty aggressive remodeling schedule. We’ve completed two stores and have four more scheduled for this year. We’re putting together plans for next year which include remodels and remerchandising for most of our stores.

“The biggest challenge is timing,” Wissmannn stresses. “We are seeing good results, so the sooner we can get our programs implemented, the better. We’re very pleased so far with how our programs have been received and the customer’s perception of what we’re doing. We’re very excited about moving forward.”

C&K Market Inc. exited Chapter 11 bankruptcy Aug. 9 after declaring bankruptcy on Nov. 19th, 2013, which necessitated closing approximately 17 of its underperforming stores. “We have emerged fairly quickly as these processes go, and we’re very pleased with the reorganization,” declares Wissmann, who joined privately held C&K Markets in early 2014. “We’re in a good, sound position to move the company forward.” 

Garnering Loyalty

To encourage additional sales, C&K Markets has its own loyalty card. “It’s been very successful keeping that communication open with our customers,” Wissmann reports. “We utilize our loyalty program to deliver better, more targeted offers through our email marketing campaigns. It seems to be very effective.”

Besides the email marketing, C&K Markets primarily purchases print advertising inserts in newspapers or direct mail in areas without good newspaper coverage, along with social media and some special promotions on the radio.

Hiring new employees has not been a problem for the company. “We have a lot of great, long-tenured employees,” Wissmannn emphasizes. “We really haven’t had too much of a problem or need to recruit new employees. We’ve got great customer-conscious employees already.”

Besides the employees, Wissmann attributes the company’s current success to its forward-looking strategy, to “having a plan to move forward and a direction focused on providing our customers with what they want,” he says. 

“A lot of times, we as retailers make a mistake by trying to sell the customer what we want them to buy,” Wissmann continues. “We want to be more conscious of what our customers want. Our customer request program gives us that contact and communication with the customer to know what it is they want and letting them know we’re going to take care of them the best we can.”

The company is considering expansion of its Shop Smart format and developing the smaller C&K format. “We want to stick with what we do well, and that is being a conventional grocery store,” Wissmann says. “We think there’s a big opportunity in being a good neighborhood market. That’s not to say that in the future we may consider going outside of those parameters, but at this point, the big opportunity is to be the neighborhood market that our customers want.”

Wissmann is not ruling out acquisitions. “We think we have come up with a good model so far,” he asserts. “We’ve seen good success with what we have put together. If there are opportunities to acquire and consolidate with other local chains or other operators in our area, I think that’s certainly an opportunity we want to keep our eyes open for.

“Our mission is really to create value, and the way we want to do that is by differentiating ourselves with a larger variety and larger offering of local and healthy items, with an emphasis on exceptional perishables and exceptional customer service,” Wissmann concludes. “That’s our direction.”