Benefits for distributors
Likewise, the success of the independent retailers is a boon to area produce distributors, including those on the terminal market, who are usually limited to fill-in business with chain stores.
“We have tremendous independent retailers who market themselves extremely well,” said Michael Badalament, salesman for R.A.M. Produce Distributors, Detroit. “Our wholesalers do very well.”
The independents have to compete with Grand Rapids-based Meijer and national chains such as Wal-Mart, Kroger and Costco.
“We’re aware of our competition,” Sciarrino said. “We’re priced competitively. We don’t skimp on quality. Our buyers are at the market every day at 2 or 3 in the morning.”
Brandon Serra, salesman for Serra Bros. Inc., Detroit, said the independents have a reputation for high-end stores and excellent produce.
“There’s a big difference in quality compared to some chain stores,” he said. “The independents pride themselves on having top-notch stuff. They watch over their stuff like it’s their own because it is. It makes us work harder. You want your stuff in those stores.”
While the independents have earned that reputation for top-notch produce, they don’t necessarily want to pay top dollar during the prolonged economic slump. Jeff Abrash, owner of Andrews Bros. Inc., Detroit, said the local retailers have had to pay more attention to providing value to cost-conscious consumers, and that has made things more competitive at the produce market.
“They’ve had to reinvent how they appeal to consumers,” he said. “There are no gimmees out there for us. There’s no locked-in sale. You have to work for every sale.”
Not going anywhere
Although times are tough in Detroit with double-digit unemployment, Serra is confident the independent stores aren’t going anywhere.
“The independently owned stores have been here forever,” he said. “People come from all over to go to those stores because of what they do. They’re like an anchor in the community.”
Outside the metro area, Meijer is a force with 100 of its 197 stores in the state.
Spartan Stores, also based in Grand Rapids, is close behind with 97 stores in Michigan.