These days, Acme Markets president Dan Croce, 47, is a busy man, and he's about to get even busier.
Last week, Acme announced that it would buy 76 stores from the bankrupt Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., which operates Pathmark and Super Fresh stores, raising Croce's store count to 183 from 107.
Luckily for Croce, who joined Acme in 2005 after rising through the ranks at A&P, where he started as a bagger, he is confident that he can quickly size up store performance and the talent of its leaders.
"In my 30-plus years in this industry, I can walk into a store and inside of two minutes feel that there is a great experience driven by a great leader because he or she is engaged with their people, or something less than that."
What do you notice when things are going wrong?
I feel tension. I feel an air of the store. I don't want to use the word happiness, but I don't feel people pleased about coming to work and/or coming to shop at our store.
What are you looking for?
It could be something as simple as looking at the cashiers. Are they are stepping out for service, sprucing up our registers and making sure that they are welcoming the customer into the lane? Or are they just kind of standing there? Watching the youngster in the back who is preparing the chicken, or the gentlemen that are throwing the bananas up onto the stand - it's all about their behavior, their body language, their emotion.
Acme is now buying A&P stores. Any memories from your days working there? Remember the coffee being ground at the registers?
I don't drink coffee. But I loved grinding it. It was one of my favorite jobs, because I do love the aroma. Taking those raw beans and grinding them up in those old-fashioned mills was a great experience. You could smell that aroma across the front end on a Saturday morning and you'd hear the grinders running and the registers buzzing. That's music to my ears, quite honestly.
Acme used to be the area's top supermarket chain. Now it's number two. What happened?
Just a quick retrospective. We're a very, very successful brand and because of that success [Acme] has been bought numerous times over. Some of those owners knew exactly what to do with it. [Others] got lost on their way and didn't know what to do.
Lost in their way is not how I would describe it. Failure to invest, at best.
I'm being as courteous as I can with those folks that owned it. They got lost in their way on how to really run it.
And the future?
We are reinvesting in our network. We are building new stores. We're on a mission here at Acme to rebuild what we once were. I've been blessed to have been given this responsibility. For those that have known me through the years, I'm pretty serious about big assignments, and I'm going to give it everything I have.
We could drink to that, I guess, and buy beer here.
We have six beer stores and 14 more to come. We are a 124-year-old company that has always operated in the state of Pennsylvania and this past September we sold our first can of beer in Pennsylvania.
Was it tough to pull off?
For me, personally it's been one of the most gratifying business achievements that I've had. I've been working on it for four years. Getting a license into a store without destroying the store based on state law is the challenge. It has to be in front of the store. It has to be adjacent to food solutions. It has to have a separate entrance and you must be able to enter the rest of the store without entering the licensed area. So it's not just get the license and throw [beer] into the store. That's the easy part. It's designing the store so it complements the experience and doesn't destroy it.
I can imagine just parking your husband by the beer.
Our friends at some of the retirement communities, that's exactly what they do during the day. On weekends we've got a younger crowd coming in, saying, "Your beer selection is the best I've ever seen."
Look at all that kale!