“We call ourselves a lifestyle retailer,” Owner Bob Sickles explains. “We don’t have the A to Z of everything – not every type of produce or every plant – but we like to find the best of what we think our customers will be interested in. We have a good selection, and we follow traditions, trends and fads in everything. We follow the 80/20 rule – we focus on the top 80 items that customers love, but we don’t ignore what a specialty store should have.”
Based in Little Silver, N.J., Sickles Market was established in 1908 by Sickles’ grandparents. The business has always focused on fresh produce, because the early generations of the family farmed. “It was a seasonal farm market, and we were open from late March to October or November, depending on how long the apples lasted,” Sickles says.
But when Bob Sickles graduated college, the business went from a small farm market to a store. In the early 1990s, he worked with a consultant to expand the business, moving into a bigger building that was temperature controlled and open all year. As Sickles explains, Sickles Market “moved from a farm market to a store to now a specialty store and lifestyle retailer with a garden center.”
Today, Sickles Market is known for its gourmet grocery, extensive selection of fresh produce, in-house butcher, international cheeses, baked good, a deli, prepared foods, gift baskets and complete garden center. Sickles admits the business is not a discount shop, but it does put a lot of focus on curating its product selection and providing special items that customers can’t find elsewhere. He notes grass-fed beef is big now, but Sickles Market has been providing grass-fed beef and lamb for more than five years, and it started carrying Berkshire pork four years ago. It’s the same in its other departments, and he cites unique tropical plants in its garden center and the Honeyglow pineapple in its produce offering as exclusives for the area.
“We always look for things that are very special,” Sickles says. “We still offer value, and I would consider our selection as good, better, best. The good item is still going to be very good, but it will have more of a value price. We are never going to have the cheapest items because it’s more important for us to have great customer service, great visuals and great products.”
Leading the Change
Sickles Market continues to evolve its product offering – it recently added seafood and sushi – as well as its business, because it will be opening a second location in nearby Red Bank, N.J. Sickles notes the Red Bank store won’t have a garden center or gift department, but it will have all of the same food departments and it plans to add gelato. The new store will be in an older moving and storage building that is being refurbished. Sickles knows the developer of the building as a customer of the Little Silver market, Red Bank was anxious for something like this, and he knew he had the team and business strength to do this, so he jumped at the chance.
“The entire bottom floor will be the store, and we will have a liquor store – we’ve never had a liquor license before,” Sickles explains. “There will be office and lounge space on the second floor. It’s 2.3 miles away from the Little Silver location, but it’s in a fairly congested area so it will open us up to new neighborhoods. It’s in a very good location, right next to the train station, so we will get all of that train traffic.”
Sickles is confident in the success of both markets because they offer the full retail experience, which is a contrast to many other – albeit larger – shopping alternatives.
“Stores like this survive because they are a place for people to come to that is inspiring, beautiful and where they can be introduced to new products,” he says. “We’re somewhat of a social place. A lot of people like to come to a place and talk to someone who is experienced in what they are selling, and that is us – our team members talk about their departments and educate the customers. There is a lot of disconnect that continues to occur, but with specialty retail, we have to be very informative about what we have, why it’s better and why it’s healthy. We want to be leading the change, not falling behind.”