A neighborhood store relishes three decades of providing quality produce to its community.
In a sleepy suburb of fast-paced Philadelphia, one neighborhood market builds on a legacy of quality and loyalty. George’s Dreshertown Shop n Bag in Dresher, PA, remains an innovative and growing part of its community’s food needs through its focus on two crucial aspects. “Our foundation is our quality and our customers,” explains George Endrigian, who owns the market with wife Ana.
The store was opened in 1977 by George’s father, Peter, under the name Dreshertown Shop n Bag. It remains in the same original location though it has been remodeled twice. “This store has always been a key part of this community,” says Endrigian. “We’re proud to be here and to have served our customers for so long.”
About a decade ago, the Endrigians added “George’s” to the store name to better reflect its personal relationship with the community. The store’s formula for success combines hand-picking suppliers for quality to meet evolving customer demands. “We go out of our way to provide the best quality produce and value to our customers,” says Endrigian. “Sometimes our competition chooses cheaper produce but I refuse to do that. I want my customers to go home and be happy with their purchase. That’s why we’ve been around for almost 39 years.”
George’s customers feel a sense of ownership in the store, evident in how both customers and employees call each other by name. “Since we’re a neighborhood store we have a lot of customers who have been with us for generations,” says Endrigian. “Some of our current customers started coming here as kids with their parents. We’re actually into third-generation customers now.”
The store serves a wide customer base in age, ethnicity and lifestyle. “Around 40 percent of our customers are younger and 60 percent are seniors,” says Endrigian. “We serve professional singles, families, retirees, and a mix of ethnic origins.” Despite the store’s 38-year legacy, it has not remained stuck in the 1970s. Upon first stepping into the store, the customer is greeted with the sounds, sights and smells of food, comparable to any urban gourmet market.
The prepared foods section flows shoppers through and into an open, colorful fresh produce department. Produce is a focal point of the store and has been since the store opened. “From my dad’s days until now, produce plays a crucial role,” says Endrigian.
The produce department occupies about 2,400 square feet of the 23,000 square feet of total store selling space. Produce contributes a minimum of 14 percent to total store sales on average. “It can hit higher peaks in the summer and at holiday time,” says Kevin Carlin, store manager.
The department is lined on each side by refrigerated cases and features three 12-by-6-foot refrigerated islands in the middle. All the cases have separate temperature controls, something crucial to the department. “We are very strict with our temperature controls in the displays,” reports Nancy Grace, produce manager. “It’s important to ensure items are displayed at the correct temperature so we make sure we have the cases set according to what’s on display.”
The right-side refrigerated case shows off apples and other colorful fruit. On the left, the department’s 10-foot wet rack displays impeccably fresh and perfect lettuces and herbs. Right next to the wet rack, 19 feet of packaged salads and other packaged items lure shoppers. The abundantly stocked section carries about 600 items. “Variety is important for us,” says Carlin. “Our customers like variety and are frequently interested in new and unique items. We put a lot of items in a limited space because we want to ensure we have what our customers want. We don’t want them to have to look for something somewhere else.”
George’s produce merchandising is all about creating an inviting atmosphere. “Display and placement are crucial elements to our merchandising,” explains Grace. “We’re always looking at what grabs the customer’s attention, what draws the customer to the product.”
Over the years, the produce department has collected a variety of eclectic bins and crates to incorporate into the displays, as evidenced by a large wooden bin full of cantaloupes. Smaller wooden crates and rustic items dot the large island displays calling attention to berries, unique citrus items and tropicals. Hand-made chalkboard-style signs lend to the farm-market atmosphere.
“Some of our current customers started coming here as kids with their parents. We’re actually into third-generation customers now.”
— George Endrigian
One of the store’s most dramatic displays includes use of a huge wooden wagon covering one of the island displays. “We use the wagon in the summer to really emphasize the local, farm feel,” says Grace. “Customers love it.”
Sourcing for Quality
George’s purchasing strategy is simple: buy the best product from whomever has it at the time. It results in an extensive and varied source pool. “Our commitment to getting the best means we have a large number of suppliers,” says Endrigian. “We source a lot from Four Seasons (of Ephrata, PA) and Procacci Brothers (of Philadephia) as well.”
Purchasing responsibility and decisions lie mainly with produce manager Grace. “I pick and choose for quality and variety reasons,” she explains. “We take the best from each source we can get. Our customers are demanding, and we always want to meet their high expectations.”
George’s buys directly from local growers in-season. “Our local programs are so exciting,” enthuses Grace. “We love finding these gems and being able to bring in the best quality at peak flavor. Our two local apple orchards often deliver late in the afternoon or early evening because the apples were just picked that day.”
One local program for George’s showcases potted flowers sourced from a farm in neighboring town Horsham. “It’s a small, family-owned operation and our customers love knowing the flowers they buy come from just up the road,” says Carlin. Sometimes customers even help source. “[Our relationship with] one of our apple growers, Weavers (in Morgantown, PA), resulted because a customer came in and told us we had to try these apples,” explains Carlin. “We found the farm, tried the product, loved it and now have a very successful program with them.”
Catering to Customer Demand
George’s longevity in the marketplace is due in part to its willingness to adapt to customer needs, including an interest in organic products. “Over time we have increased the number of organic items and we definitely see demand growing,” he says. “We hope to expand more in the future.”
Organics are displayed in a 10 linear-foot refrigerated rack. “We tried to integrate organics with conventional but didn’t feel it was very effective with our customers,” notes Endrigian. “We went back to offering an exclusive organic section and find this is more successful for us.”
George’s offers several store-prepared and branded value-added items. These include nuts and dried fruits as well as fresh orange juice and cut fruit. The juice and cut fruit are attractively merchandised around a smoothie counter where customers can purchase made-to-order smoothies. “We also core pineapples for customers,” says Carlin.
The store maintains a 16-by-6-foot island salad bar including a wide variety of salad ingredients, pasta salads, hot entrees and soup in conjunction with its prepared foods section.
The Value of Good People
True to its relational nature, George’s relies heavily on experienced employees to communicate with customers. Carlin has worked at the store for more than 38 years, while Grace is in her 20th year, and assistant produce manager Joel Singer touts 50 years experience in the business. “Most of our employees are long term,” says Carlin. “There is great pride and commitment in working here.”
George’s emphasizes interaction between store personnel and customers as its first front for marketing. “We get comments on how our employees are so helpful to customers,” says Endrigian. “They’re always interacting with them, showing them how to pick out the right item and giving them advice.”
The store utilizes marketer-supplied recipe cards and some POP but stresses the importance of sampling. “Demos draw customer attention to the product and when they sample, the taste convinces them to buy, ” says Grace.
George’s uses social media tools to communicate with customers about local produce or other good deals. The store also runs commercials on cable channels including Food Network and Bravo and puts out a weekly circular with the entire back page devoted to produce.
Yet, despite all these modern tools, the store’s best promotion medium is still the oldest – word of mouth. “Our customers are our best advertisement,” says Endrigian.