Michel’s Super A Foods
Michel’s Super A Foods (Michel’s) was established in 1960 and remains an independent grocer today. The Alberta-based grocer sells locally, as Michel’s takes great pride in its community. The family business is now in its second generation, with Michel Beland, current owner, taking over for his father, Victor Beland, in 2000.
Beland began working with his father in 1981, initially stocking and working in other departments before joining the corporate side of the company. “Between 1986 and 1988 I took a business administration course at N.A.I.T. and then I returned as my father’s assistant manager,” Beland elaborates. “After I returned, I decided I liked the business and stuck with it until my father retired. My wife Jillian and I have owned it ever since.”
The family business has changed locations several times over the years, moving into its larger, current 20,000-square-foot retail space in ’76. “We did a major renovation about three years ago,” Beland notes. “It was certainly appreciated, and recognized, by the community.” Being part of a small town has allowed Michel’s to establish itself within the community.
“Any future growth would only involve our existing location,” Beland continues. “It would be more in the line of upgrades to systems and equipment. The only thing I have planned for the near future is an improved over and under deli case, which will provide more shelf space for increased product selection for our customers.”
It is evident that Beland and the Michel’s team aim to please. The grocer has one location and approximately 50 full-time and part-time employees, which Beland says sets Michel’s above and beyond. “My staff, without a doubt, sets us above area competitors,” he details. “They are well-trained and very talented in their positons. They have great rapport with our customers. We live in a small town and definitely have that small town closeness with our customers.”
Reaping the benefits of a small town
The sense of community has its perks. “We are quite remote here,” Beland says. “It is a small town and we are the only grocery store in it.”
According to Beland, this allows Michel’s to be quite involved with the community. “We sponsor a lot of minor sports teams, charitable events and organizations, things like that,” he details. “We get involved with whatever is going on in the community.”
Part of Michel’s community outreach relates directly to its product offering. “We pride ourselves in bringing in any special requests that our customers bring to us,” Beland explains. “Though we do, at times, run into distribution and/or volume restrictions, which prevent us from getting everything that is asked for. Despite the obstacles, we are quite successful in this regards. I have often been complimented on our large selection. Customers have told me that they can get items in our store that they can’t find in the bigger stores in our neighboring cities.”
Michel’s boasts a strong meat department and fresh produce, which results in healthy sales. However, Beland is always searching for new ways to satisfy his customers. Therefore, through the efforts of Michel’s wholesale, The Grocery People, the grocer has recently signed on with Coupgon. “It is an electronic coupon system that, we believe, our customers will embrace and appreciate,” he details. “I believe it will really take off and only grow as more and more people become familiar with it.”
Beland goes on to explain that The Grocery People provides Michel’s with many strong programs, technological support, as well as competitive pricing and advertising. In a community-oriented region, it is important to also cultivate relationships with partners, in addition to staff and customers, and Beland recognizes that.
Challenges to overcome
Beland explains that one of Michel’s biggest challenges is keeping staff. “We have a core group that has been with us for many years,” he elaborates. “It is the part-timers, cashiers, etc. who we have a harder time keeping.”
However, Beland notes that the value of its people is not overlooked; Michel’s always makes it’s a priority to maintain healthy wages for its staff. “It is important to treat your staff well and pay decent wages and offer time off,” Beland details. “Also, I make a huge effort to treat customers well in regards to fair pricing – the independent grocer’s wholesale, TGP, helps with monitoring pricing. The town has a wide variety of ethnic groups, so we go out of our way to cater to all groups of people.”
According to Beland, freight is another challenge Michel’s continues to face. “Our group is relevantly small compared to big-box stores, so we are restricted to what vendors we pull from,” he explains. “Vendors have shipment requirements and minimum order quantities; some things are just out of reach due to costs.”
Furthermore, Beland is quick to note that his sense of accountability helps establish business. “My ability to relate to the customers and my staff is a great asset,” he details. “I believe in treating people fairly and honestly. I’m a good listener and communicator.”
Beland projects the business will continue sustained success for many years to come. Being a community-oriented business, Beland takes pride in Grande Cache. “The town itself has had its ups and downs as it’s primarily a resource town, but we also have a correctional facility, which provides a lot of stable jobs,” he elaborates. “Outlook is positive for us.”
Above all else, Beland is proud to be maintaining the success that was handed down from his father. With Beland at the helm and his family pride to back him, Michel’s Super A Foods will press on, proudly supporting Alberta and its community of Grande Cache.