In upstate New York, people know John MacDougall.
Maybe not by name, but definitely from TV. He’s the guy in the commercials dodging the jet-propelled cartoon pig, or literally turning blue in the face.
As the unflappable shopkeeper in a half-dozen regionally televised spots for his Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes chain, CEO MacDougall has forged a business model based not so much by turning energy shots or candy bars, but by gaining the public’s trust.
What’s not to like about a jolly, silver-bearded ball of energy who wants you to try his stores’ coffee or pizza? And if you don’t like something, his face is on the customer comment cards so you can write him directly. It’s a personal appeal that breeds fans devoted enough to pull out their smartphones when he’s driving down the street and post the video on YouTube.
It’s a familiarity. A Main Street comfort. A double-edged kinship that has given him permission to experiment in fiercely competitive times—and win.
The channel knows MacDougall as a foodservice pioneer, the man who faced competitive forces unbridled by taxation and reinvented himself. But to achieve that well-deserved title, not to mention CSP’s 2013 Retail Leader of the Year honor, MacDougall had to forge a network of service-oriented employees, peer alliances and supplier partnerships that would define convenience retailing and line his shelves with the things people didn’t even know they wanted.
“John has a creative gene in him to satisfy public demand,” says Fran Duskiewicz, senior executive vice president of the Canastota, N.Y.-based chain. “The old saying is that people may not know they want a minivan. But if you’re sharp enough to listen to what they’re telling you, you’ll build one. John’s the guy who will come up with a minivan.”
And that minivan keeps evolving. His latest “perfect” store is a 7,000-square-foot “superette,” front-heavy with produce and farmers’ market goods, flanked by open coolers of freshly packaged meat on one side and hot-from-the-oven strombolis on the other. On the island display are fruit cups, yogurt parfaits and $6.99 take-home meals fashioned by one of two executive chefs.
By most industry metrics, the company ranks in the top quartile—and the top 5% in foodservice, Duskiewicz says. Out of its network of 88 stores, the 37 corporate-run sites together approach $100 million in inside sales annually, with foodservice representing about 25% of those sales. Many locations meet or exceed $1 million a year in foodservice sales.