Saturday, May 7, 2011

In Front of and Beyond the Release: Sunflower Farmers Market's New Website and its Journey to the Promised Land

We are the first publication we're aware of to have reported on April 28 that Colorado and Arizona-based Sunflower Farmers Market had just gone live with a major makeover of its website, enhancing its design, along with adding a number of new features to the site. We published our story just a short time after the website went live.

You can read our story here - April 28, 2011: Sunflower Farmers Market Goes 'Live' With New Website - First California Store Opens May 11.

A week later, on May 3, 2011, Sunflower Farmers Market and Grocery Shopping Network, the company that designed and maintains the website for the 33-store farmers market-style grocery chain, announced  the "newly enhanced [Sunflower Farmers Market] consumer website" in a press release. You can read the May 3 press release here.

Some of the enhanced features of the website Sunflower Farmers Market and Grocery Shopping Network touted in the press release are "interactive tools for shoppers that include a digital circular that allows shoppers to search by department or brand; a recipe center that includes wine parings; access to in-store specials and sales items; as well as the ability to create a master shopping list and a record of previous shopping lists."

In our April 28, 2011 story we point out some additional features Sunflower added in its website makeover.

The joint Sunflower Farmer Market-Grocery Shopping Network May 3 press release generated a considerable amount of ink in the press following its publication and distribution on May 3.

But as a reader of Fresh & Easy Buzz, you didn't have to wait for the press release to be issued on May 3 by Sunflower and Grocery Shopping Network in order to learn about the fast-growing grocery chain's website makeover. Instead, you learned about it a full week earlier, on April 28.

Sunflower on the move

Sunflower Farmers Market will open it first store in California, in Roseville near Sacramento, on Wednesday, May 11. It's second store in California - also in the north -  in the Northern Central Valley city of Modesto, is set for an October 2011 opening, according to the grocer.

Competing farmers market-style grocery chain Sprouts Farmers Market opened a store last month in Roseville, its second unit in Northern California. 100-store Sprouts, which now includes Henry's Farmers Market as part of its operations, opened its first store in Northern California, in Sunnyvale near San Jose, on June 10, 2010.

Sunflower Farmers Market is also close to closing on a location either in San Jose or Mountain View, California (or both), according to our sources, as we've previously reported. Sunflower hasn't publicly commented on its future plans in either of the two Bay Area cities. Mountain View is next door to Sunnyvale.

The grocer is also looking at additional locations throughout Northern California, from the Sacramento region and the Bay Area, to the Central Valley and south coast.

As we've also previously reported, Sunflower Farmers Market plans to open at least 5 -6 new stores each year over the next 4-5 years, which is similar to the number of new stores its been opening over the previous few years. This year and next, about half of the 5-6 new stores will be in Northern California, according to our sources.

In addition to Northern California, which Sunflower enters on May 11, the grocer is also entering another new market region soon. As we reported in our April 28 story, Sunflower Farmers Market says it plans to open its first store in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in September 2011.

Sunflower currently has 33 stores in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Texas. At 7 a.m. on Wednesday of next week it adds California and store number 34 to the list.

We estimate Sunflower Farmers Market currently has annual sales in the $500-$600 million range. The privately-held chain isn't required to and doesn't regularly release its sales figures.

To the promised land

Sunflower Farmers Market is now headed by CEO Chris Sherrell, who took over as interim CEO on February 12, two days after co-founder and CEO Michael Gilliland resigned was arrested in Phoenix, Arizona on the charge of soliciting sex from a female undercover police officer, who was posing on a website as an underage (17-year-old) prostitute as part of a sting-type operation. Gilliland has been indicted on the charge and is set to stand trail in Phoenix August 9.

Sunflower Farmers Market's board of directors announced last week it's made Sherrell, who's 34-years- old, the chain's permanent CEO.

Sherrell has held numerous positions with Sunflower Farmers Market, including president and before that chief operating officer.

Sunflower's store-count has tripled over the last three years, during which time he served as president and was responsible for day-to-day operations of the chain, reporting to Mike Gilliland.

Since stepping in as CEO in early February, Sherrell's done a "yeoman-like" job of keeping Sunflower Farmers Market on track in the aftermath of Gilliand's arrest and resignation, along with overseeing the implementation of a number of new initiatives between then and now, including the launching of a redesigned Sunflower logo (at top), the website makeover, and on Wednesday, the opening of the chain's first store in California.

Sunflower Farmer's Market's board chairman, the other members of the board and investors, are counting on Sherrell, in Michael Gilliland's absence, to achieve what for sometime has been and remains the strategic sales goal they set for Sunflower - which is about $1 billion in sales by around 2015. The chain was founded by Gilliland and partners in 2002.

Gilliland, who according to Bennett Bertoli is now a "minor investor" in Sunflower Farmers Market, used to talk (some say brag) about the $1 billion in sales goal at various natural products industry conventions and in other venues.

Based on its current strategy of opening 5-6 new stores a year between now and at least 2015, which would nearly double its total store count, along with increasing sales at its existing stores, achieving that sales goal is doable for Sunflower Farmers Market, unless it runs into some very major hiccups.

But so far it's seemed to have weathered about the most severe hiccup that could happen to any business, it's CEO being arrested and set to go on trail for solicitation of an underage prostitute, although in fairness we emphasis that under our system of justice Gilliland is innocent until proven guilt or until he pleads guilty.

Having so far righted a potentially sinking ship and provided a steady hand at the helm since taking over as CEO in early February, 34-year-old Sherrell just might be the guy to take Sunflower Farmers Market to that $1 billion promised land, like Bennett Bertoli and the others believe he is.

Related Stories

December 9, 2010: Launching Sunflower Farmers Market Into Northern California is a 'Second Act' of Sorts For Founder-CEO Mike Gilliland

December 7, 2010: Sunflower Farmers Market Confirms Our Report It's Headed to Northern California; Roseville Store to Open April 2011

September 28, 2010: Grocer-Entrepreneur, Sunflower Farmers Market Founder & CEO Mike Gilliland Honored By Hometown Chamber of Commerce

September 22, 2010: Sunflower Makes Three: Sunflower Farmers Market's First Northern California Store Will Be in Roseville

January 10, 2011: Sprouts Farmers Market to Open Second Northern California Store in Roseville No Later Than Mid-April

No comments: