Lucky’s currently has six stores open, four openings announced this year, and plans to open six to 10 stores a year over the next several years. Stores range from the Boulder headquarters to Columbus, Ohio, in the east.
The chain has found a niche in the fast-growing small- to mid-size retail format populated by stores like Phoenix-based Sprouts Farmers Market and The Fresh Market, Greensboro, N.C.
What these retailers have in common isn’t in the cereal aisle.
“Produce is king,” says Patrick Mills, director of produce, during a recent visit to the company’s Columbia location, which opened in the winter. The produce department even starts before you get in the store, with signature garage doors leading shoppers into the farmers market atmosphere of the department.
I took time with Patrick to talk about Lucky’s strategy, and after a tour of the Columbia store, I’m getting a feeling that being with Lucky’s is just that. From the fun, innovative atmosphere to a corporate culture encouraging community service, it’s a dream job.
Can you give me a brief overview of Lucky’s — history, management/leadership/growth over the past year/plans for expansion? Why have you chosen the areas you have for future stores?
Lucky’s Market was started by Bo and Trish Sharon just over a decade ago in Boulder, Colo. They built a great niche and became Boulder’s leading independent grocer. Within the last couple of years, Bo and Trish decided to build the business and take their simple, fun concept nationally. We are expanding throughout the Midwest, and even chose some locations in the Montana and Wyoming areas to complement our Colorado stores.
Lucky’s fits into a rapidly-growing, very successful niche of the small-to-mid-size “premium, natural and/or organic” format. Why do you think this format of store is gaining popularity with consumers?
Our guests care more than ever about where their food is coming from. They also want a company that’s supportive but not preachy, and which offers the quality, local and organic foods they want, but while also carrying favorite national brands their families love. From cucumbers to cupcakes, we do what we can to create the ultimate, fun shopping experience for our guests.
When did you join Lucky’s, and what did you find appealing about making the move?
I joined Lucky’s at the beginning of the growth period when the founders decided to take their independent Boulder store to a national chain of natural food stores. I have always been a huge fan and friend of Lucky’s Boulder, so when the founders decided it was time to build the brand nationally, I was more than excited to join the family on a permanent basis.
What role does produce play in the Lucky’s strategy?
Our produce departments are front and center in the store. We even have garage doors that open daily and lead you directly into the produce department. Produce percentage of sales is very strong, and we do everything we can to offer quality, availability, local items and value for our guests.
What do you want a customer to experience when they walk into a Lucky’s?
We want our guests to experience quality, great value, amazing variety and an overall happy shopping experience. Our customer service plans involve samples, interaction and often discussions about recipes, types of produce and their uses. Conventional, organic, local and value added products are also available daily.
What kinds of programs are you able to put together in a store like yours that might be unique to your style/format?
We offer a simple, amazing juice program that, in many cases, replaces the customer’s morning coffee needs. We also offer value-added items (chunk fruit and vegetables, trays and fresh-cut, ready-to-cook condiments) to help consumers prepare healthy, simple meals.
What’s your philosophy when it comes to your product assortment in produce? Are you trying to keep a year-round selection of the greatest hits, or focus on seasonality, organics, local, etc.?
We focus on our simple premise (Good food for all). That said, we strive for strong value in all of those categories. We offer a 55% conventional/45% organic split in most of our departments. In terms of popularity, local produce is a huge piece of our seasonal business. We are also heavily community involved, so when we can support local providers, this is our priority.
What’s your organic strategy?
We love organic! While our sales trends end up at 60% conventional and 40% organic, we are offering a solid 50/50 split. We have two shelves on our wet cases (one organic and one conventional). We also offer two large table runs, one showcasing organic vegetables and one organic fruit. We also create satellite displays of promotional, organic items on sale periodically, and we promote organic produce each week in our sales flyers.
How important is local, and how is a relatively new retailer like Lucky’s able to reach out to the local community to get your programs started out?
Local produce is a huge category, and it is very important to us. That said, we support local for many reasons. To begin with, it’s just right in terms of freshness. In some cases, product is picked in the morning and on the shelf by the afternoon. We also like to support local farmers with knowledge, an outlet for sales, training, certification and even simply helping the basic local footprint as best as we can. We also support our own organic, local farm land here in the Boulder area. The Lucky’s Farm project provides our two local Colorado stores with several different SKUs, but the farm project exists mainly to teach students how to become a successful farmer. In other markets, I personally visit farmers and community groups representing the farming community to establish and to build friendships.
Where do you see Lucky’s Market in five years?
I see Lucky’s continuing to grow and building a community network through our company. We are very real about simply doing the right thing, and at the end of the day, it is important to us to work hard, to positively impact the communities we are in and to do things the way are supposed to be done. Produce will always be our driver; local and organic trends continue to grow, and we will support these trends and adapt as time goes on.
What’s the best part of working at Lucky’s?
Lucky’s is family, so I don’t feel I ‘work’ at Lucky’s — I am Lucky’s, as is each and every team member in our company. I live, eat and sleep Lucky’s, and I wear our philosophy with serious pride. I love my job, my company and the entire family that has built what we have today. These have to be my favorite reasons for going to work every day.