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Farmer’s Pick: A Friendly Neighbourhood Market Grounded in Tradition
Alfonso Curcio, president of Farmer’s Pick, runs his small-town grocery store with a hands-on approach and the extra amount of customer attention that keeps people coming back. “We’re surrounded by the big-box stores,” he reveals. “We’re right in the middle of Wal-Mart, Target and other large chains, but what makes us stand out is the fact that we know our customers by name. People like the small-store feel.” Farmer’s Pick has been attracting customers looking for a more personalized shopping experience for over 21 years.
Hands-on Ownership, Complete Customer Care
Curcio runs the Ottawa-based grocer directly with full knowledge of an industry he’s been working in his whole life. “I started in the grocery business when I was only 14 years old,” he shares. “I’ve done everything from sweeping the parking lot to packing upfront.”
And Curcio proudly goes on to note that he is active in the company’s day-to-day operations. “I’m here every day,” says Curcio. “I get in at about six o’clock in the morning and I often don’t leave until suppertime. I’ve been doing that since we opened and, by now, I know almost every customer who walks through the door, and they know me, too. Customers know that I’m out here on the floor and very approachable.”
Curcio admits having one operation gives him more time to work with customers directly. “If I had a bunch of stores, I’d never have time to talk and get to know everyone,” he says. Farmer’s Pick wants to be known for complete customer service and care. The company offers packaging of preorders and cashiers will even carry items out to the customer’s car.
The medium-sized, 20,000-square-foot store is conveniently located centrally in town. “We’re about a 10- to 20-minute drive from downtown and the same distance from just about every suburb in the area,” shares Curcio. “We might not be right where all of the action is, but we’re close to everything. We have lots of parking, space to shop and plenty of open registers; we want to help you get in and out pretty quickly. We’re a bit of an old-school operation.”
Doing Business the Old-fashioned Way
“This is a real, old-fashioned supermarket,” explains Curcio. “There’s nothing else like it in town. We’re all about food. We don’t sell ceiling fans, barbecue tools, beach balls and other stuff that never should be in a grocery store. You won’t find a pharmacy, garden centre or a photo lab here either.”
However, Curcio says customers will find a huge selection of high-quality food products, everything from the basic pantry essentials to hard-to-find imported goods. “You’ll find food that’s fresher and tastier than you’re used to,” he reveals. “We have a 60-person staff that knows their stuff and genuinely enjoys working with customers.”
Farmer’s Pick still performs about 100 percent of all deli, butcher and bakery services in-house, unlike larger chains that outsource all of those services. “We still cut our deli and butchery meats here,” shares Curcio. “We also bake from scratch. We’re by no means a warehouse; our operation is a spotless boutique-style store.”
The Anti-chain Store
“I have no interest in being a chain store,” details Curcio. “I want to be like the mom-and-pop restaurant you see downtown where the husband and wife are running the operation on a daily basis; I try to do the same.”
Keeping this in mind, Curcio has a realistic approach to the business. “I know I can’t beat the big-box stores on price; I don’t try to,” he says. “I compete by offering the best service through a familiar face and the highest quality product at a fair price.”
Curcio admits competition from larger chains does put a pinch on Farmer’s Pick, especially when larger grocers practically give items away. “They’ll price basics like milk, eggs and bread well below cost and advertise it in their flyers just to get people in the door,” he explains. “We don’t have that luxury, because we’re in the penny business. Instead, we try to go out and find specialty items you won’t see on the Wal-Mart shelf. I also don’t play the high-to-low game. I put an item for sale at the right, fair price, and when it’s gone it’s gone. My customers know they can find what they want at the same reasonable price year-round, not just when there’s a blowout sale.”
Farmer’s Pick is able to source specialty items the larger stores don’t have through important supplier relationships. “We buy directly from the source,” shares Curcio. “We don’t deal with third-party distributors. We find smaller importers and work with them face-to-face; that’s one of our advantages.”
Curcio is content with the products and services Farmer’s Pick delivers and has no plans of future expansion. “I’m a perfectionist,” he stresses. “I simply couldn’t run things the way I see fit if I had multiple stores. I want Farmer’s Pick to uphold the company’s commitment to the community and continue to serve the neighbourhood.” Curcio is, however, looking to expand the store’s product line. “We’ve seen a big demand for more gluten-free, organic products,” he adds.
By skipping middleman distribution and serving customers with the highest level of attention, the company is able to withstand giant chain competition. Curcio continues to run Farmer’s Pick with a dedication to remaining small, traditional and community-oriented.