Red Barn Country Market Ltd.
Red Barn Country Market Ltd. (Red Barn), a small specialty grocer in British Columbia, consists of four store locations on Vancouver Island. Five Red Barn owners took over the business in 2009, and continue to steer the grocer toward success.
The leadership team includes five equal co-owners, four of whom formerly worked together at Thrifty Foods. Russ Benwell, head of marketing, social media and community relations, as well as Peter Hanson, head of finances and back end operations, joined forces with Ashley Bourque, head of meat, deli and smokehouse operations, as well as Sam Schwabe, who is responsible for produce and grocery procurement operations, and Duncan Davies, manager of strategic business planning.
“Between the five of us, we have 100 years combined experience,” Russ explains. “When Thrifty Foods transitioned to Sobey’s, we all lost the ability to be owner-operators. We decided to move on and buy Red Barn. When we purchased the business in 2009, there were three locations. In 2011, we opened another location, the largest of the four, at Latoria Walk. We now employ 245 people.”
Finding a Natural Niche
Red Barn is focused on providing high quality. “We want to be known as your everyday specialty store,” Russ explains. “Our goal is to provide nutritional food that is sourced locally. We have relationships with a number of local farms; Vantreight Farm provides us with great, locally grown produce that we know our customers are interested in. We will try new vendors to fulfill trends and accommodate market changes. We rely on customers to determine those trends. Being a small business, we can be more flexible than larger grocers.”
Russ goes on to explain that Red Barn has been trying to drive island-grown, island-raised, island-made foods. “We promote local Vancouver Island businesses whenever possible,” he details. “We source items that are grown, raised or produced on the island first before looking off the island. We then move to include British Columbia and farther abroad to complete our purchasing needs.”
The grocer incorporates local beef, pork and chicken into its meat program. “We have two internal smokehouses on location that smoke 80 products,” Russ continues. “We make sausages, bacon, smoked cheese and other products; 79 of those 80 products are gluten-free. Our smokehouse produces foods that are low sodium with no fillers. We also offer a number of value-added meat items, such as chicken cordon blue, maui ribs, luau pork shoulder and other non-processed meats.”
Russ is proud to note that Red Barn locations specialize in a wide variety of gluten-free grocery items. “You won’t find big name items, but we sell specialty items in these regards,” he continues. “We also try to provide education behind the items. Our stores range from 2,500 to 6,000 square feet. It’s an intimate experience for the shopper. We are a high frequency shopper location, not so much the volume shopper grocery store. Red Barn provides a boutique experience.”
Fast and Fresh
Aside from local, fresh produce, meats and grocery items, customers can come into Red Barn to pick up a number of prepared entrees and platters. “Customers can come in to pick up dinner or lunch,” says Russ. “We create great sandwiches and party trays highlighting our meats. One of our popular to-go items is our sandwiches, we call them Tall as the Barn sandwiches and they are made to order and stuffed with our smoked meats and veggies on Portofino bread. These sandwiches have been voted the best in Victoria.”
Red Barn’s niche and in-house products are creating growing demand across the region. “We are always upgrading,” Russ notes. “A lot goes into our smokehouse, as well as food safety and store cosmetics. The economy has been tough, but we have been doing well since 2009 when we bought the stores.”
Nonetheless, Russ explains that customers choose Red Barn locations due to customer service and the value of the grocer’s products. “We have a big produce section that we have been improving to add better value to customers,” he says. “Now, we are gaining market share in the Victoria area. We are building a strong brand that people have grown to trust and respect. We also give back to the community. We sponsor local teams, donate to schools and local culinary events. Direct marketing is important to us, because we represent the brand of our business within our community.”
With a strong brand identity and a growing base of loyal customers, Red Barn continues to grow. Russ and the team are planning continued expansion, as well. “We are actively looking for new locations,” he says. “It has been two years now since we opened the Latoria Walk location and we are positioning to open up additional island locations.”
In the coming years, customers can expect the same quality, local foods and leading service within a broader footprint. Russ and the crew maintain a simple philosophy: provide fresh, locally sourced food at reasonable prices, support the community and local food economy, as well as focus on feeding customers the highest quality foods and produce available. These principles remain unchanged as Red Barn Country Market Ltd. enters a period of accelerated growth into new territory.