The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Robin L. Quillon

October 23, 2011

Robin L. Quillon | At grocery, old-school way works

— I’d like to send out hardy congratulations to Dick Butler and his family as they celebrate Market Basket’s 40th year in the grocery business in Richland Township.

 As everyone knows, small businesses are the fuel for America’s economic engine. Washington does not create jobs; it’s enterprising people such as Mr. Butler who create jobs.

Thank you, Mr. Butler, for taking the financial risk and succeeding.

Thank you for the past 40 years. We look forward to the next 40.

The fact is, profit margins in the grocery business are not very high at all, so owners depend on volume to make the nut every month. Therefore, customer loyalty is paramount if you are going to succeed.

Having worked for a Virginia independent grocery store during my senior year in high school and for a year and a half while attending college, I know something of the daily challenges a grocer faces.

I worked as a bagger, a stocker and a cashier. My favorite position was bag boy.

I liked the action and interacting with the customers.

I remember my first day of training by old Mr. Palmer, the store manager. He sat me down in the office and said, “Remember to always smile, be polite and never forget, the customer is always right!” He added: “Robin, one person knows 50 people and if they have a bad experience, they will tell all 50 people.”

That made perfect sense to me. 

My wife and I were shopping at Market Basket on a recent Saturday, and let me tell you, when Mr. Butler says they do business the old fashioned way, he means just that. His words ring true: From the moment you walk through his doors, customer service and excellence are top priorities throughout his organization. 

I was impressed to see every cashier line open, with a bag boy waiting to bag your groceries and get you on your way.

And as one bag boy left to take groceries to a waiting car, another stepped up quickly to replace him.

I witnessed an amazing ballet of rotating bag boys, all smartly dressed in matching uniforms.

I’ve been to other stores where cashiers have to literally beg a co-worker to  bag the groceries. At many stores, cashiers are required to check you out, bag the groceries and then put them in a cart.

You won’t find self-checkout at Market Basket.

Checkout lines moved very fast and cashiers were as friendly as I have ever witnessed.

Just as we were putting our groceries on a checkout conveyer belt, a supervisor approached to change out the cash drawer for a new cashier coming on duty.

Oh no, I thought to myself, this is going to take forever. We will never get out of here.

Boy was I wrong. Before I could look back up, the drawer was changed out and Andrea started scanning our groceries.

She greeted us with a big smile and asked if we’d found everything we needed. She proceeded to check us out at light speed.

As the groceries piled up behind her, she rang a bell, letting the bag boys know they were needed.

I smiled. The ringing of the bell brought back memories of my old bagging days. This is the old-school way of the grocery business.

I saw the store manager – yes, the manager – stalking like a lion up and down the line greeting customers and making sure all was well.

When was the last time you saw that in a grocery store?

I overhead a cashier next to us greeting a customer by name and asking about her children.

The aisles were jammed with shoppers, and yet I saw several clerks pushing brooms, cleaning the floor and making sure the shelves were full and the customers were satisfied.

I watched as a clerk walked a customer to a product she was trying to find. He actually stopped what he was doing, saying, “Follow me; I know exactly where it is.”

When was the last time you saw that happen in a grocery store?

“We’ve built our business over the years by word of mouth, from one customer to another,” Mr. Butler said in a business story in this newspaper last Sunday.

“We do things plain and simple. But we think we give our customers a bang for their buck.”

Yes you do, Mr. Butler. Thank you.

It is refreshing to shop at a place where you feel welcome. And frankly, because of that, the decision of going back again is not a difficult one to make.

Congratulations and happy 40th, Market Basket!

Robin L. Quillon is the publisher of The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at

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