Donald’s Market: Creating a Sense of Community in the Big City

Donald’s Market (Donald’s) was founded in 1986 to provide Vancouver’s Sunrise neighborhood with an independently owned source for the freshest groceries and specialty items. This store, located on East Hastings Street, is a thriving example of how a commitment to offering the healthiest varieties of products and the most attentive customer service has lead to success.

The market started out with just 2,500 square feet, selling almost exclusively produce. The store’s reputation and clientele base grew so quickly, however, that six years later Donald’s expanded to 4,000 square feet, and seven years after that expanded by yet another 4,500 square feet, adding both hot deli and fresh meat departments.

Looking at the three distinct storefronts that have combined to create the flagship Donald’s location, customers can see the results of the hard work done by the company’s founders to bring conventional and organic essentials to communities. Today, the company, which is still family-owned and -operated, maintains three locations – on Hastings, Commercial Drive, and in River Market, New Westminster.

“My brother Donald started this company, and our brother Glen also works at the company,” says Gary Joe, president of Donald’s. “We try to provide the customer with the best products, and we have expanded our niche to cater to specialty markets, especially with organic and green-minded products.”

The three brothers each bring different strengths to the organization and operation of Donald’s. “I have been working here since 1994 or 1995, but I didn’t really see myself in the retail business,” reflects Joe. “I would do some work on weekends, but I really preferred the accounting side of things. The good thing is that my work there helped me see some of the areas for improvement and that’s what convinced me to stay. Donald really has a hand in a lot of the business, especially with the vendors. He likes to drive around and look into local companies to try and expand the selection. And Glen is really active in the operations side of things because he’s really handy. Every one of us has different specialties.”

Catering to Communities

More than just being a convenient place for neighborhood residents to purchase groceries, Donald’s has become a neighborhood institution renowned for its friendly and responsive customer service. “We’re an independent market, but we are unique because we listen to our customers and will even bring in products upon customer request,” says Joe. “We take pride in filling individual orders, even though it means more work for us, because it gives us an advantage over the larger chain stores.”

Listening to customer requests, Donald’s identified an area in which the markets could be forerunners. For more than 10 years the company has offered a wide variety of products in the organic and locally sourced sector, and has implemented different transparent means to inform shoppers of how Donald’s produce is as environmentally friendly as possible.

“We have developed special signage to inform the customer of the origins of every single piece of produce and identify the locally produced items more easily,” explains Joe. “We have seen the market for locally produced items really grow over the past few years and it’s one of our biggest objectives at the moment to represent more local companies.”

Aside from just supporting the local farmers through the purchasing of regional produce, Donald’s understands the impact a retail operation can have and works to identify the areas with the greatest potential for improvement. “We are trying our best to be as sustainable and eco-friendly as possible, so we’re trying to steer away from the use of plastics as much as possible,” says Joe. “We also try to represent as many alternative and non-toxic cleaning solutions as possible.”

Eco-conscious Consumers

Having opened its third location in British Columbia, a project that was years in the making, Donald’s has been actively pursuing programs that help reduce waste and support local economies. “Opening the new location was so exciting for us,” beams Joe. “It was completely designed and built specifically for us, including the wider aisles we wanted, and it’s different from renovating an existing space because there we so many more options for us. We even partnered with the neighboring restaurant to help supply them with produce and reduce our waste.”

Donald’s has a program with neighboring Paddlewheel Pub to supply produce that has been purchased in bulk but is projected not to sell, so instead of throwing away perfectly edible food it is utilized before it passes its optimal freshness window. The measure reduces both waste and cost, providing the restaurant with more affordable produce that can be stored a few doors down, saving the carbon miles if the Pub received shipments from a different distributor.

Thanks to its proactive strategies and a thorough understanding of local market desires, Donald’s has seen its revenues grow ever as many businesses saw sales decline during the recent recession. “We saw a five-percent sales increase since 2008,” says Joe. “The economy really didn’t affect us at all and we’re expecting our sales to continue to grow, because people are beginning to cook for themselves more often rather than eat out.”

In the coming years, Donald’s is committed to maintaining its current locations and to delivering the consistent customer service that has become the company’s trademark, but there is always a willingness to expand if the right opportunities presented themselves.

“At the moment we’re still settling into our new location, but I think we will probably be opening up a new distribution center in the next four or five years,’ says Joe. “We don’t have any hard plans right now for more stores, but we have been looking at a few different potential locations. It’s hard to say exactly what will happen because, but maybe within the next two years we will begin moving ahead with a project.”

Carrying just about everything needed to run a household, Donald’s Market will continue to provide the goods and services that have established the company as a best independent grocer in the Vancouver region.