Small-town homecoming an outlet for local grocers

Owner-operators determined to make Grocery Outlet store work where other Camas grocers have failed

By Jessica Swanson
VBJ Managing Editor
Former Hockinson schoolteacher-turned-businesswoman Sandy Phillips is glad to be moving from Tacoma back to a smaller town. When the new 13,000-square-foot Grocery Outlet opens in Camas, it will be the third Phillips and her husband Greg Phillips have owned and operated in the last ten years. Leased to the California-based company by Vancouver businessman Steve Oliva, the space will be home to the latest in a string of grocery stores that have failed.

Referring to the two Thriftway stores that have occupied the space, Phillips said she believes local residents want more competitive prices and will travel to Vancouver to shop for them.

“Out here in Camas and Washougal, you can go into Vancouver and get everything,” she said. “Since they don’t have to go very far, they are not willing to stay in their community and pay prices that are higher.”

Even though Grocery Outlet offers lower prices than typical grocers because of stocking manufacturer overruns and products that have recently changed labels or packaging, Phillips was quick to say they are not looking to put other local stores out of business.

“We’re not like Wal-Mart that goes in there and takes over the town,” she said.

Greg Phillips was a manager at the Grocery Outlet in Vancouver more than ten years ago when he began looking into the opportunity to become an owner operator. Sandy Phillips took time off from teaching to learn the ropes, and their first venture was a one-year ownership of a store in Monroe. That led to nine years in Tacoma, and last spring, when Grocery Outlet announced a store would open in Camas, the Phillips jumped at the chance to return home.

“We are looking forward to being in a smaller town again; you can’t be in your community in Tacoma like you can here,” said Phillips.

The store carries mostly grocery items purchased at a discount and some regular stock grocery items. It will also carry non-food items such as health and beauty. The store will also carry wine and beer, and while Phillips said well-priced beer selections have been harder to come by, there is an “excellent selection of wines at great prices.”

The store, located in the Lacamas Center strip mall, will share its space with a Dollar Tree location, a combination that has worked for the grocer many times in the past, said John Wiley, vice president of marketing for Grocery Outlet.

“The original building was a little larger than our footprint,” he said.

By October, Grocery Outlet will have added 11 new stores in Washington and Oregon, putting them at 124 stores in seven Western states.

The Camas store will employ at least 20 crew members when it celebrates its grand opening on Oct. 1 and may add as many as ten more.

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