retail news in context, analysis with attitude

In anticipation of next week's Food Marketing Institute "FMI Connect" conference and exhibition in Chicago, MNB this week will feature interviews with three FMI board members.

Today: Randy Edeker, CEIO of Hy-Vee, and FMI's vice chairman of Member Services.


What is the biggest transition you think the industry is going to have to make over the next 10 years?

Randy Edeker:
I believe our industry is entering a time of transition in multiple areas, and each will be crucial in its own right. There’s the changing landscape of competition as a result of acquisitions and new competitive models that have emerged in recent years. Then there’s the transformation of health care and the potential roles those changes create for our industry. Add to that evolving marketing tactics in mobile and social media as well as new store sizes and you can see we are living in a complicated and rapidly evolving time.

What do you think will be the biggest adjustment you'll have to make in your own company, and how are you laying the groundwork for it now?

Randy Edeker:
We must develop new ways to speak to our customers on a much more personal and intimate level. Technology will help us do that, but it takes more focused training and making sure we have the right systems in place. Every employee in our company is challenged to do whatever it takes to completely meet—and exceed—our shoppers’ expectations. The key is making sure we provide those experiences consistently, not just occasionally.

What demands do you think an empowered consumer base will put on the food industry? How about an entire new generation of employees that have different expectations of what the work experience should be like?

Randy Edeker:
Never before have we faced a consumer with such a wide range of exposure to incredible foods, ingredients and culinary experiences. Chef-influenced foods are virtually everywhere, so it’s inevitable that today’s consumers will have high expectations of fresh food, variety and easy access to everything they’ve been exposed to. When you combine that shopper profile with today’s transparent, competitive environment, you end up with shoppers who are more empowered than they’ve ever been before.

Just as consumers want to be engaged on a personal level, so, too, do employees. I believe employees today are ready and willing to help us be successful, but they won’t just blindly follow the directives. We have to do everything we can to ensure they not only understand the company’s mission, but buy into it. Then we have to empower them to carry out the vision and recognize them when they do.

How important do you think transparency (about product sourcing, nutritional info, GMOs, etc...) will be going forward, and is there a line you think retailers should not cross because it will be going too far? Do you think that retailer priorities will always be in synch with supplier priorities in this area?

Randy Edeker:
Whether one thinks transparency is important or not is irrelevant. The concept is here to stay. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a retailer or a supplier, transparency sheds light on how one conducts business. You can’t lean on marketing tools and techniques to promote an item. The product must be everything you say it is. All of us—suppliers and retailers—must increase our transparency efforts to meet our customers’ expectations of quality, nutrition, food safety and retail price.

What's the biggest - and in retrospect, the most important - mistake that you've ever made, and how did you grow from it?

Randy Edeker:
Probably the biggest mistake I’ve made is learning the pace of change within an organization. You can’t underestimate the power of an 85-year-old culture. If I’ve made a mistake, I’d say it’s forgetting that culture eats strategy for breakfast, especially if you don’t explain the “why” to your people very well. Sometimes I move at a pace that leaves some behind.

What is the most significant thing you do each week, and why?

Randy Edeker:
The best thing I do every week is talk one-on-one with our people in the stores. I remind employees that our corporate office is not Hy-Vee. Hy-Vee is out in our communities, in our stores. To most of our customers, Hy-Vee is an employee they encounter, not a place. When I talk to our people, I get a good sense of what is working and what isn’t. It is also when I feel the best about what we do, and how we do it.

What is the single, most important retailing rule that you've learned in your career, and how did you learn it?

Randy Edeker:
When I was a brand new store director in Columbus, Nebraska, I had the opportunity to work with a gentleman that had been very successful with his own ad agency. He taught me that “the fastest way to kill a bad business is with great marketing.” It speaks volumes to the fact that your store better be better than your story. To do that, you have to master the basics first and foremost. Claiming to be something that you’re not will not only raise expectations but also deliver greater disappointment when you don’t live up to them.

If you had to define the most important aspect of leadership, what would it be and why? (And, if you are so inclined, could you give an example of this quality in practice?

Randy Edeker:
Humility makes you approachable, believable and easier to follow. If you deflect praise to others and remember how you got to where you are, and where you came from, you will be a better leader.

Bonus question: What is your favorite movie, and why? (And is there a business lesson in it)?

Randy Edeker:
Skyfall. I think this was the most brilliant movie because it repositioned and reintroduced an age-old icon James Bond in an entirely new light and to an entirely new audience. It transformed him into more of a millennial hero similar to Jason Bourne. Never before had we seen James Bond somewhat vulnerable, less than perfect. Still you learned new things about him, like where he was from and how he got to where he was. There are some great branding lessons in this movie.


Next week: See you at the FMI Connect / United Fresh show in Chicago!

KC's View: