My name is Matt Hofstede and I am the Grocery Manager at Willy West. I have spent the last ten years in the Grocery Department at Willy East and it is a privilege to share my love of food, community and great customer service with customers at Willy West. I am also a Willy East shopper that now seeks Willy West to fill my basket with the same great products.
I hope this article will fill you in on some of the details about how the two Grocery departments are working together to limit our differences except where differing tastes between our Willy East and Willy West shoppers warrants it. A lot of great work has been done so far but there is still a plenty to do.
As Willy West was being built, I was working with my colleagues at Willy East to configure the strongest product selection to serve our Owners, new and old alike. Limiting the differences in our packaged grocery offerings between the stores (at least before we get a better feel for how each stores’ shoppers feel about each product) was a priority, but also a challenge because the stores don’t have identical amounts of space. The biggest differences between East and West Grocery departments are that Willy West has more refrigerated space, less packaged (shelf-stable) space, less bread space and the trade off for a lot of that space is a bigger deli and the added value of a beer and wine section.
Dean Kallas, our Purchasing Manager, and I spent a lot of time carefully reviewing sales reports, operational demands and niche products, but there was a significant element we couldn’t account for—the Owners. By that I mean we simply couldn’t anticipate the specific products customers would seek at Willy West. We did our best to bring over every product available at Willy East but in some cases when the space allocated for a category of products shrunk, like syrup and honey, we were forced to reduce the offerings.
Removing or “cutting” products from our shelves wasn’t a desirable job when customer service is our goal, especially for opening a new store. At this writing, Willy West has been open for 50 days and I have received over 100 customer comments; that’s average of two a day in just one department—I mean thanks, but yikes. The vast majority of the comments are requests for products that are currently only available at Willy East or suggestions for completely new offerings. The feedback is helpful and I am working to research and respond to every comment in a timely fashion. The top categories of comments are for dietary restrictions and bread. Other than that, there are a number of products available at other stores that folks would like to get here. I really appreciate the suggestions and requests for products. It can be difficult weighing the pros and cons of each product, checking on the space available and considering a number of ever-changing factors, but we do our best and appreciate your patience as we work to improve our selection.
Each month the Grocery management teams are meeting to discuss new products, customer comments and much more. Our goal is to have the best selection of products in each store based on the mission of the Co-op and the needs of the Owners. We will identify any differences between each store’s packaged grocery department and determine if they’re warranted; if not, we’ll address them together.
More than anything I want you to know that if you leave your contact info, you will hear directly from us. Email is ideal but a phone number works, too, and if you don’t want to be contacted, that’s fine. Just check out the customer comment bulletin board near the community room or the new product section in the Reader each month. Also, if you see an “Own It” tag next to a shelf tag, that’s a product we brought in based on an Owner’s request.
The Willy West Grocery team has made great strides to maintaining and raising the quality of customer service and product knowledge our Owners rely on. Including myself, four team members that spent a combined total of over 20 years at Willy East now call Willy West home. The rest of the nine great people to form our 13-person team come from various walks of life that are adding value to their roles on this team. Some have worked at other grocery stores and some have not. Regardless, each day we are learning more about the customers, products and the best operating practices for our store and organization.
Everything that Willy Street Co-op does is for the people we serve and that will never change. The Grocery team and I are proud to call Middleton our home and we are committed to working everyday to build new bonds and grow this Co-op with our Owners. As we move forward, all members of the Willy West Grocery team are working to assess, serve and meet the needs and expectations of our fellow Owners. The patronage and feedback so far hashelped me determine where to focus our energy—please continue with both!