“We make a commitment to provide a high quality product line at affordable prices and to be active locally,” said Erick Taylor, president and CEO.
Pyramid Foods currently has 33 stores in Missouri, 11 in Oklahoma, and one in Arkansas. The company’s stores include Food Pyramid, Ramey, Price Cutter, Smitty’s, and Save-A-Lot. Pyramid Foods traces its roots back to the 1919 purchase of a grocery store in Springfield, Mo., by John Ramey.
Nearly 50 years later, the Ramey stores were sold to a corporation run by the Cohen family through a Maryland-based company called Roswil Inc. The stores were initially managed by Taylor’s father, Richard, and expanded its footprint through strategic acquisition and consolidation.
Taylor took the helm in 1993 and continued acquisitions and new store development further expanding the company, with many Ramey stores rebranded under the Price Cutter moniker. Price Cutter has become a well-known presence in the Springfield area and is the title sponsor of the PGA’s Price Cutter Charity Championship, helping to raise more than $6 million for children’s charities and with construction of five Habitat For Humanity homes. In 2002, Price Cutter acquired seven stores in southwest Missouri that are now known as Price Cutter Plus and Smitty’s. Two years later, the RPCS Inc. corporate identity was established, forming a parent company to oversee all Ramey, Price Cutter, and Smitty’s operations.
Moving into Oklahoma in 2007, the company acquired nine stores in the Tulsa area. They now operate under a new name, Food Pyramid. Last year, after acquiring two more Oklahoma stores in Ponca City, one which became a Food Pyramid and one that kept its Ponca City Discount Foods identity, the parent company name became known as Pyramid Foods, creating a corporate brand that will provide room for further growth under one common banner.
“Conceptually, each store is the same but we operate under different banners because after acquisitions and mergers, we had to decide if it was appropriate to come up with a new name,” said Taylor. “In Missouri, Price Cutter has a strong name but in Oklahoma there had been another Price Cutter and it wasn’t successful, so we came up with Food Pyramid. Also, the original Ramey stores were small and as we built bigger, we wanted people to understand the difference between the brands.”
Some of the stores have become destinations, with pharmacies in 30 locations and Starbucks coffee shops with free wi-fi service in 11 Price Cutter Plus and six Food Pyramid stores. The Food Pyramid concept made providing nutritional information to consumers one of its goals in order to take an active role in helping people make better decisions about what they eat. These moves helped the company’s stores become a part of the every day lives of many area residents.
“We found in our Springfield stores that 98% of the market population comes through the stores at least once a month,” said Taylor. Gathering this data throughout its entire network has helped the company spend resources more efficiently on advertising.
“We decided to market more in-store in that area, but in other markets we may not have the foot traffic we’d like, so we spend more on radio and TV.”
The success of Pyramid Foods and its brands also stems from a decision made when the Cohen family sold the business in 2005. Rather than looking for a new corporate owner, the company became an ESOP. Employee ownership gave the people working for the company a stake in its future.
The company gives its managers the autonomy to merchandise their stores based on local demographics, but it invests in ensuring each store has a customer-centric atmosphere as well. It uses the Fish training program developed by Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle to help train staff on how to improve their level of service through the Fish four-step philosophy; play, make their day, be there, and choose your attitude. Pyramid Foods started using the program six months ago and now has guest relations managers at every store reporting back to corporate headquarters.
Other decisions are making the business more efficient. The company invested in the new ACS Cash Register software system and updated its entire accounting system so front and back door systems could work better together. The company began offering loyalty cards and collecting customer information in a new marketing database. Sustainability efforts, such as starting plastic recycling programs at each location, retrofitting existing stores, and building new locations to green certifications, are also either in the planning process or already underway.
Using Associated Wholesale Grocers Inc. as its primary supplier, Pyramid Foods is constantly looking to be sure its product lines are meeting consumer expectations on quality, value, and selection. The company tries to stock only American beef and is establishing relationships with regional farmers to offer locally-grown produce. Given the belt tightening retailers are seeing in all sectors, the company is trying to offer more options in its dollar aisles and stocking more private label products.
“Even on the high end, items like wine someone would pay $80 a bottle for at an upscale restaurant, they’re coming here now because they can get it for $30,” Taylor said, “We are buying direct from the manufacturer wherever we can to get better prices, holding goods in our warehouse, and distributing them to our stores so we can be competitive on key items.”
With online shopping available in the Springfield and Joplin areas, two new stores currently under construction, and another acquisition in the works, Pyramid Foods is clearly putting the pieces in place to continue growth. Taylor said the company would like to continue expanding, but not beyond a 500-mile radius of Springfield. Despite challenges around issues like the rising cost of goods and labor, there is every reason to believe Pyramid Foods will hit that target.
“We are doing everything we can to provide convenience to our customers,” said Taylor. “And we’re doing it without sacrificing quality.”