Thursday, July 15, 2010

Just Like Mr. Rogers Did, Save Mart Supermarkets' Doesn't Just Talk the Talk, it Walks the Walk in the Neighborhood

Modesto, California-based Save Mart Supermarkets is currently running a television commercial (which you can view in the video above), titled, "People in Your Neighborhood," on broadcast and cable TV stations throughout Northern California and the Central Valley - from Bakersfield in the south, up the Central Valley to Modesto, over to Sacramento, and into the San Francisco Bay Area - where the grocery chain has its 244 stores.

The commercial uses the Sesame Street "People in Your Neighborhood" sound track and in many ways takes its inspiration from Mr. Rogers' neighborhood. But it gets it's philosophical and practical grounding from Save Mart's core values - localism, community and neighborhood - along with the grocer's two mission statement-oriented positioning strategies, which are - Save Mart Supermarkets: "Your Life. Your Town. Your Store." and "Save Mart Supermarkets: The People in your Neighborhood."

Watch the 60-second video at top, then read the profile below.

Modesto, California-based Save Mart Supermarkets, which began with a single store in the Central Valley city of 205,000 residents 58-years ago, is today one of the approximately five-largest privately-owned supermarket chains in America. Only a handful of other U.S. family-owned grocery chains - Meijer Inc., H-E-B and Wegmans, for example - have higher annual sales than Save Mart's about $5 billion in yearly revenue.

Save Mart, which is majority-owned by Chairman and CEO Bob Piccinini, who's father Mike and then partner Nick Tocco opened the first Save Mart store in Modesto on January 17, 1952, today operates 244 stores throughout California's vast Central Valley region, in the San Francisco Bay Area, and in Northern Nevada. The chain's banners are: Save Mart, S-Mart Foods, Lucky (supermarkets), and FoodMaxx (discount warehouse stores) banners.

The primary if not sole reason for the existence of the S-Mart banner, which is only used for the grocer's stores in Stockton, California, is because a local, family-owned multi-store independent in Stockton has operated a handful of stores under the Save Mart name in the city since the days of Bob Piccinini's father, Mike. As a result, the families made an agreement long ago that Modesto-based Save Mart Supermarkets would use the S-Mart name on its stores in Stockton for as long as the local family operates there stores of the same name.

Not long after taking over Save Mart as CEO around three decades ago, Bob Piccinini bought out the interest in the company held by the Tocco family and became the majority-owner of what then was a very successful local grocery chain with about 45 stores.

He's been there ever since - although for a time Piccinini gave up the CEO title and focused on real estate acquisition as chairman. But after a number of years he took the CEO title back. These days though Bob Piccinnini has lots of capable help in the day-to-day running of the chain from president and coo Steve Junqueiro.

Save Mart is a self-distributing grocery chain. In addition to its stores, the food and grocery retailing company owns and operates: Smart Refrigerated Transport (perishables distribution/transportation), Yosemite Wholesale Warehouse in Merced (produce distribution), Vacaville Distribution Center, Roseville Distribution Center (both grocery distribution centers), and is a voting partner in Super Store Industries (SSI). SSI owns and operates a distribution center in Lathrop, California near Modesto, Mid Valley Dairy in Fairfield, California, and the Sunnyside Farms ice cream plant in Turlock, which is also near Modesto.

Save Mart's partner in SSI is its competitor, Sacramento, California-based Raley's. Both grocers pull grocery and perishable product from the facility for their stores, in what is a very unique distribution partnership between two competitors. Like Save Mart, Raley's is a family-owned chain. It has sales of about $3.2 billion annually, making it among the largest privately-owned food retailers in the U.S. as well.

A hallmark of Save Mart's success for 58-years has been its lazer-beam like focus on being a part of the communities and neighborhoods it serves with its stores. It was "local" long before local became a food and grocery retailing trend and buzzword. And for 58-years, the word "neighborhood" has been a major part of the Save Mart Supermarkets' name, not on its store signs or stationary - but in its every practice.

If you ask the leader of any community or non-profit organization in Modesto, California, where the chain is based, to name the two businesses they first go to whenever they need assistance of some sort - donations, sponsorships, ect. - they will tell you this: Save Mart Supermarkets and E.J Gallo Winery, which like Save Mart is a family-owned company that calls Modesto home.

It's the same case in an ever-growing way in the other Northern and Central California communities where Save Mart has its stores, including increasingly in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the family-owned grocery chain has only been doing business for just a little over three years.

In 2007, Save Mart CEO Bob Piccinini made the biggest deal in his long career owning and running the supermarket chain - he acquired the 128-store Albertsons chain in Northern California from Albertsons LLC, which was owned by the Cerebrus private equity firm.

The deal nearly doubled Save Mart's annual revenue, and for the first time in the company's history put the grocer into the highly competitive nine-county San Francisco Bay Area market, which has been comtrolled from a market share standpoint by Safeway Stores, Inc. for...well, forever. Albertsons, now rebranded Lucky by Save Mart - its old name in the Bay Area until Albertsons Inc. changed the banner to Albertsons in the 1980's after buying the old Lucky chain from American Stores, Inc. - is (and was then) the number two market share leader in the nine-county Bay Area, home to about 7 million people.

Here's just a sample of the charities, non-profit groups and community organizations Save Mart supports on a regular basis:

MDA, City of Hope, Children's Hospitals, The Salvation Army, American Cancer Society, the Center for Human Services, March of Dimes, American Heart Association, United Way, local food banks, all public and private schools, health agencies in their market areas, and many more local civic organizations.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, and doesn't do justice to the long list of people, groups and organizations the grocer helps. But we don't have enough space in this piece to list all the entities - large, medium and small - the grocer supports in various ways.

If we had to (and apparently we are going to try) sum up the keys to Save Mart's success in a few words it goes something like this:

>Local. To paraphrase the late, long-serving Democratic Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Thomas P 'Tip' O'Neil, who famously said: "All politics is local;" Save Mart's mantra is: "Grocery retailing is local," regardless of how big you get.

>Community and Neighborhood. Save Mart looks at each of its stores not as an extension of the corporation but rather as independent, neighborhood supermarkets that have the added advantage of being a part of a large chain. In other words, the whole can only exists if the sum of its parts serve each of the neighborhoods and communities in which they sell groceries in. Store Directors operate by a strong set of corporate rules. But they also have much more independent ability than their peers at most grocry chains do.

Save Mart's two mission statement positioning lines are: "Your Life. Your Town. Your Store." and "Save Mart Supermarkets: The People in your Neighborhood." The latter being the focus of its current television commercial, which is posted at the bginning of this profile. The grocery chain does an excellent job of having all it does flow from these to premises. They're mission statments and strategic markers, rather than mere positioning elements.

>Tradition. Customer service still reins supreme. And all of the male store clerks are still required to wear a white shirt and a tie, a tradition Mike Piccininni and Nick Tocco started with that first store in 1952. The same dress code applies at Save Mart's corporate headquarters in Modesto.

>Value. Save Mart isn't the low-price leader with its Save Mart and Lucky banner supermarkets, which comprise the vast majority of its 244 units. (It's FoodMaxx discount warehouse format - 45 stores - does position itself as the low-price leader though, including offering to meet any price offered by its competitors.) However, the grocery chain does a great job in delivering value, which although competitive prices must be part of any value equation, aren't the sole indicator.

>Measured Progress. Save Mart has never been the leading innovator in its markets. However it's always been innovative. The grocer innovates though in what we call a measured way, taking into account its core elements - localism, community, neighborhood, tradition and the offering and sustaining of value to its customers.

Based on its 58 year track record, we think Save Mart gets the Mr. Rogers seal of approval for its focus on "the neighborhood" and its extensive efforts in the communities where it does business, while at the same time being able to make a profit selling food and groceries, along with employing thousands of people, paying them excellent wages and offering them top-flight benefits. In fact, that's sort of what "neighborhood" and "community" should be all about in the neighborhood we call America, isn't it?


Anonymous said...

The Neighborhood Song is from Sesame Street...years ago!

SaveMart Smart Shopper said...

Thanks for the mention on your blog. The post was a good read, esepecially for us here at Save Mart. It's encouraging to see critics and customers highlight our involvement in the community. We'd like you and your readers to know that they can learn more about our community efforts and our store by connecting with us on Twitter at and on Facebook at

Anonymous said...

SaveMart is great, but these commercials are TERRIBLE! I have to change the radio station/tv channel whenever one comes on the air. SO ANNOYING! PAINFUL TO LISTEN TO!

Unknown said...

As an employee I wish I was the lady singing in the commercial! I love my job and I loved the commercial! I still sing it with customers from time to time for a good laugh!