The next brand that United developed was Amigo’s, which is aimed at the Hispanic market. “For us, it’s really a Mexican population in our part of the world,” Taylor says. The four stores feature fresh-made tortillas daily and prepared foods such as carnitas and menudo. “You have specialized bakery offerings, and if you’re doing it right, you have a very service-oriented meat market and seafood,” Jackson says.
The final supermarket brand is Albertsons Market, which opened after United Supermarkets was bought by Albertsons LLC In 2013. These stores, which previously operated under the Albertsons brand, are located in west Texas and eastern New Mexico.
“We started operating initially some west Texas Albertsons stores, and we started making some changes to make them a little bit more like how we operate stores,” Taylor recalls. “As we did that, they had an unused name of Albertsons Market, so we picked up on that and named them Albertsons Market.” United Supermarkets operates as a separate, decentralized division of Albertsons.
United Supermarkets is emphasizing prepared food in some of the Albertsons Markets. “As we’re learning more about those communities that are served by Albertsons Market, they have a nice opportunity to be the most upscale store or the most focused on natural and organic foods,” Jackson says. “They have a great opportunity in prepared foods. We are working to take those stores more in that direction.”
Three of the Albertsons Markets in new cities are being totally renovated in order to convert them into Market Street stores. “It’s not changing out a sign and not a décor package, although both of those are involved,” Jackson stresses. “It’s more in the products and services that you offer and how you present them to meet the needs of the folks around those stores. Market Street has really high potential to meet guest demand for the experience, products and services we have planned. It’s unlike anything else in those cities.”
Often, the number of employees is increased substantially when a store is converted to a Market Street. “A store might go from 100 team members to 325,” Jackson says. “You may have 80 of those working in foodservice or the deli department – almost as many in prepared foods as you used to have in the whole store.”
Seating in the café area might increase up to 150 seats. “It’s a restaurant-style environment that we have,” Taylor explains. “Some stores have seating for 280 to 300 people. All our Market Street stores have seating for 100 or more, which is more than a traditional supermarket. Then we add the health and wellness, living well and supplements. We really are heavily into that.”
Some of the Market Streets have six grades of beef, including grass-fed, organic and dry-aged beef. “It’s really transformational,” Taylor says.
United Supermarkets uses a hybrid pricing strategy that emphasizes competitive everyday pricing while still being promotional. The company is not a typical high/low operator. “Our go-to-market strategy is we’re very competitive with the low-price leader in our market, but we are not the low-price leader,” Jackson emphasizes. The company prices fairly but still features some good promotions. It focuses more on the perimeter departments such as produce, bakery, foodservice, deli, meat market and seafood than the center store departments of dry, frozen and dairy merchandise.
“We take some of our best practices from Market Street to those United Supermarkets that serve high-end neighborhoods,” Jackson says. The same is true of some of the best practices developed at Amigo’s.
The Market Street format includes a concierge who handles the store’s extensive catering services. “We take the food and set it up, we do carry-out, weddings, rehearsal dinners, party event planning, Christmas parties, special events and banquets,” Jackson says. “We did one catering event for 750 people.”
Market Street can handle cakes for special events in its bakery department, flower arrangements in its floral department, reception menus in the foodservice department and beverages in its beer and wine department. “You’ve got to have that niche and the density along with the right customer base to support that store,” Taylor points out. “It’s one stop. You discuss your desire, and Market Street plans the whole thing. Others do food catering, but to put the whole package together, we found it to be a little unusual. That seems to be a little bit different than I think other stores do.”
Catering adds luster to the Market Street brand. “You can’t really quantify the value of that to the guest and what it brings to the brand itself,” Taylor says. “If you do it right, you really expand the image. So it’s a real image-builder.”
Catering adds to growth during slow periods. “We’ve grown our wedding business throughout the years to where now the wedding business is what carries our floral departments through the summer,” Jackson says. “Summer is slower for grab-and-go floral, but we have some great business during the summer with weddings.”
Market Streets hold expos on weekends in which booths and tables are set up throughout the stores to build specific business. The wedding expo at Market Street is held early in the year. “With weddings, planning happens a lot in February and March, so we might have more than 20 consultations and book three or four weddings per store just from one expo,” Jackson recalls. “Several will come back later and book events with us.”
Other expos include the Build A Better Basket Expo. “We ask people to come in and we try to help them to build a better basket for their health needs,” Jackson says. “We do that during the first of the year when it is top-of-mind.” During the summer, the expos highlight local products. “We brand it ‘Best of Texas,’ where we highlight all the items from Texas,” Taylor says. “We have a lot of produce there that can take center stage. We start out in the parking lot and lead into the store.
“In the wedding expo, you’ll be able to sample a wedding cake or groom’s cake from a young couple dressed as a bride and groom,” Taylor continues. “In the first part of November, we have ‘Entertaining Made Easy,’ where we invite people in and highlight and demonstrate how we can help them with their party planning for the holidays.”
Other expos such as an international foods expo have been held in the past, but for now, the stores have settled on the current ones. “These seemed most impactful and appreciated by guests,” Taylor explains. “With ‘Entertaining Made Easy,’ I’ve had several friends say, ‘I don’t mind throwing a party anymore, because I can visit your concierge and I can get everything I need to help them prepare the menu and cater the right stuff.’”
The size of the stores that make up the four brands of the United family grocery stores varies from 18,000 to 74,000 square feet. The company’s average grocery store square footage is approximately 46,000 square feet. Most were built by the company rather than being converted from previous facilities. The company’s fifth banner, United Express, is a fuel and convenience store chain. Those range in size from 400 to 4,000 square feet.
Inventory is procured and managed with computer-assisted ordering. “You still have to have some human interaction, but technology helps our stores order more efficiently,” Jackson says. “Technology provides the information, enabling you to make better decisions and develop better processes. I would say in the last 10 years, we have really started utilizing that technology as intended. Before that, I didn’t think we were as good at applying it to the business.”
The company operates three distribution centers, one measuring 500,000 square feet and the other 100,000 square feet in Lubbock, Texas. The largest one is approximately 40 percent refrigerated with six different temperature zones from deep freeze to ambient, along with banana ripening rooms. The smaller distribution center is for specialty, organic and seasonal items. The third distribution center, located in Roanoke, Texas, is 200,000 square feet.
United Supermarkets maintains a family atmosphere and supports the communities in which it is located. The annual Jacky Pierce Charity Classic golf tournament in partnership with the company’s suppliers and manufacturers has raised more than $2.5 million for nonprofit groups over the past 20 years. United also has a strong volunteer arm, the UCrew, for which participating team members provide community service in support of local charitable activities.
Employee recruiting is aided by the company’s strong reputation in the community. “We are focused on our culture, which makes for happy team members,” Taylor concludes. “We have some great teams, but I think it all stems back to treating everybody with respect within the company. Every person has value, and you need to recognize that value. I think that we work as one team very well together. We all have an important role to play, and we try to carry that respect through the company. That makes it easy to serve our guests when you have happy team members.”