Originally printed in the September 2018 issue of Produce Business.
A motivated millennial creates value for customers and has fun doing it.
On an unassuming, average-looking street in Palmyra, NJ, sits a gem of a produce store. With more than 5 years in business, the store has become a destination in the community. “We have customers who pass up several large chain stores just to come shop here,” says Zachary Olah, owner and operator. “That tells me the value we’re offering them.”
The store attracts a wide variety of customers, young and old. “The convenience of grabbing a quick fruit, that last ingredient to finish dinner, or simply weekly shopping without the hassle of huge parking lots and long lines has everyone choosing us over the ShopRite close by,” says Olah.
The store is family-owned, by Zach and his parents, and sister, Julia, now operates it with him. “My father one day passed a tiny one-story commercial building for sale and right away had the idea of opening a little neighborhood grocery store,” says Olah. “With no set business plans for the store, my father offered me the chance to take the store on as my own. … With the help of a wholesale delivery company, we opened and stocked mainly the essential fruits and veggies. Our journey began.”
The store is small, only about 1,000 square feet, but Olah packs it with everything his customers want. “When we first opened, we concentrated on just fruits and vegetables, but over the years we have added other specialty items to meet customer needs,” he says.
The store offers more than 100 different fresh fruits and vegetables. “When we first started out, the turnover rate for produce made it difficult to keep such a wide variety fresh,” says Olah. “Now with the increase in foot traffic, it’s easy to stock something with the chance of being able to sell a case quickly. That includes bringing in more organic produce and even exotic fruits such as lychee, rambutan and passion fruit.”
Olah’s philosophy is to offer the very best quality while still being affordable and convenient. “It’s one thing for shoppers to buy something that looks good in the store, but my goal is for them to get it home and say, ‘wow, that’s delicious’. This leads to the trust my customers have in everything they buy from me.”
Upon entering store, shoppers immediately see abundant produce in a space exuding a natural, farmstand feel. “For the most part, the layout of the store stays the same, although great deals found at the wholesale market may be highlighted toward the front cooler for easy view,” says Olah.
Wooden racks, built by Olah and his uncle, showcase the majority of the produce. A double-decker wooden dry rack with smaller boxes nestling a variety of fruit runs the length of the department on the right-hand side. Two large wooden island displays stand guard in the center of the store, showcasing peppers, squash, tomatoes, mango, kiwi, ginger, banana, avocados, limes and lemons.
A 14-foot wet rack lines the left side of the store and contains mostly produce. At the end of the wet rack, is a special “discounted” bargain section. “These are items I want to get off the regular shelf or things I’ve picked up a great deal on at the PWPM (Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market),” says Zach. “For example, I got these one-pound pack blueberries at Procacci at a great value and sell them for $3 each here.”
As the name implies, produce is the focus of the store and accounts for about 50 to 60 percent of store sales. “Offering a high-quality, wide variety of produce helps create an image of high standards for the store as a whole,” says Olah. “If standards are set high in the produce we offer, customers overall show more trust in what they buy.”
Olah’s high standards start with sourcing product. “Our priority sources are local and wholesale,” he says. “We’ve got great farms in our surrounding area growing outstanding corn, tomatoes, melons, peppers and other items.”
Access to the PWPM is key to the life of the store, notes Olah. “I love going down there,” he says. “The market always has everything we need.” Olah shops the PWPM about two to three times a week and sources between 80 to 100 percent of his produce from the market. “One huge benefit is the amazing deals I find there,” he says. “At any given time, a vendor could be trying to clear out something they have excess of or may not have a long shelf life. Those are the products I’ll sell at close to cost. By advertising those deals we draw customers from as far as a half hour away.”
The store’s traditional feel belies the progressive promotional methods Olah employs. The store currently boasts a Facebook following of more than 4,000. “If I hadn’t set up a Facebook page a year into the business, I’d be long gone,” he says. “Advertising the great deals I find at the market on a weekly basis helps draw customers from Palmyra and the surrounding towns.
Fresh Produce of Palmyra
427 W Broad St
Palmyra, NJ 08065
Hours Sunday 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Mon-Thurs 10 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Friday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Saturday 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.