This corner-store revival epitomizes the growing success in Philly of the small-format retailer.
The greater Philadelphia region boasts every type of retailer including: Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods Market, Wal-Mart, Ahold and Supervalu chains; large independent, Redner’s Market; creative store, Iovine Brothers; innovative C-store, Wawa; and the most recently aggressive retailer to make inroads is Aldi. Additionally, the area now witnesses a resurgence of the corner store.
“Neighborhood stores are growing and coming back,” says John Durante, president of wholesaler Nardella, Inc. “Convenience is a big factor in today’s culture, so we see a lot more corner stores popping up and handling more upscale items.”
Independents occupy a key position in the Philly area and continue to increase in number and size. “Philly has many strong independents,” says Mike Maxwell, president of Procacci Brothers Sales Corporation. “Many started as single stores, developing into 10 or more units. The second generation is a huge factor. Mom-and-Pops may have opened one store, but now the kids are taking it to another level.”
Focused, independent retailers remain resilient in their niche. “These independents are not threatened by chain stores,” observes Stephen Secamiglio, owner at Colonial Produce. “They service customers with quality and price and have more flexibility when reacting to market changes for customers. They are holding their own and growing in Philly.”
Over the past 31 years, Sangillo’s Farm Fresh Produce & Deli in Drexel Hill, PA, survived the rise of the big box stores and supermarket consolidation. Remaining relevant to its customer base, the independent market places emphasis on the aspects consumers appreciate about small-format stores.
“People who are pressed for time yet want good quality ingredients,” says Tom Sangillo, president and owner. “The need for convenience and smaller, more customized stores, the desire for health, and more produce consumption, as well as demand for specialty, gourmet and ethnic items all fit what we do.”
The store started as and remains a family-owned business. Sangillo and his brother Rich originally owned a tire shop at the store’s current location. However, the advent of longer-lasting radial tires resulted in a drop in business.
“We began investigating other things we could do with the store,” explains Sangillo. “After talking with friends in the produce business, we decided on produce. In 1985, we converted the tire store into a produce store.”
The store has grown to 18 employees, and Sangillo now manages the store with his wife, Pattie. He views flexibly as crucial to success. “We stay relevant by listening to our customers and paying attention to what’s moving,” he says. “Things will change, you can’t stop that, but you can adapt to what is changing.”
Underscoring Farm Fresh
Sangillo’s emphasizes the “farm fresh” aspect of the business. The building’s interior conveys a farm-market feel with wall murals as an homage to nostalgic times. The 4,500-square-foot building offers 3,150 square feet of retail selling space, and 60 percent is dedicated to produce. The rest of the space houses a full-service deli and merchandises specialty and Italian grocery items. The back area includes a walk-in produce cooler and delivery and prep area. Sangillo reports produce contributes about 50 percent to total store sales with the other 50 percent coming from the deli and specialty products.
Fitting with the farmers-market theme, the main sales area focuses around a large island display utilizing boxes and baskets to showcase colorful, fragrant fruit from citrus, to apples, to avocados. One side of the large room is lined with two displays of Italian grocery items, about 7-linear feet each. A vegetable rack boasting a wide assortment of mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes and lettuce runs the width of the room. Another smaller 6-foot linear display continues with salad mixes, asparagus and other specialty vegetables.
The store relies on displaying small quantity and restocking frequently. “It’s old-fashioned hard work,” describes Sangillo. “We are constantly culling and rotating to ensure the produce looks the best and fresh. We don’t want our customers coming in and picking up a damaged peach. We want them to have a great experience every time they shop.”
A Tailored Mix
Sangillo’s carries about 150 different produce items and changes the mix to serve its evolving customer base. “Though we originally started as an Italian market, we changed our product mix as our customer-base diversified,” explains Sangillo. “We once did tremendous volume in broccoli rabe. Now, we have yuca, jicama and avocados. Local statistics report there are 25 different languages spoken by students at our local high school. We see that diversity reflected in our shoppers as well.”
Given the space constraint of a small store, Sangillo constantly evaluates what sells and what doesn’t, shifting the product mix accordingly. The store varies the display layout with the changing seasons and availability. “Seasonal changes make produce interesting,” says Sangillo. “Changing the layout allows us to attract customer attention and keep our store exciting. We are always moving things around and looking for what we can draw out.”
The combination of diverse customer base and farm-market format means most promotion is done at point of sale, focusing on visual presentation, signage and cross-promotion. “Displays are built to communicate freshness and promote impulse buys,” says Sangillo. “We feature signage for specials and build out displays for items we really want to promote.”
Sangillo’s sources almost 100 percent from the Philadelphia Produce Wholesale Market, buying through a broker. “She walks the market and tracks down the best deals on what we need,” says Sangillo. “She does a great job for us.”
The store purchases about $350,000 a year from the market, averaging about 500 packages a week. Sangillo credits his success to the relationship with the store’s very first broker, Jules Schaller. “He was our mentor and tutor,” he says. “We didn’t know anything about produce! Every night I’d call him, and he’d guide us on what to buy.”
Fresh Produce & Deli
3801 Garrett Road
Drexel Hill, PA 19026
Monday – Friday: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Saturday: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday: 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.