For Brian and Launa Howard, opening a brand new Grocery Outlet Bargain Market in Woodland is the realization of a combined 40 years of dreaming.
The pair, who both worked at Safeway in Tacoma since they were 16, have spent years learning every aspect of the grocery industry in hopes of one day going into business for themselves. And their dream came true on Aug. 16 when the two held the grand opening of their 14,500-square-foot store at 1325 Lewis River Road in Woodland, in what used to be the Ace Hardware building. The opening of the new store brings 30-40 new jobs to the community.
“The opportunity came up in Woodland, and we always wanted to own a grocery store, so this was just perfect,” Brian said. “Working for a large grocery chain really helped perpetuate us to this endeavor – finally working for ourselves.”
In a strange twist, though, the Howards didn’t pursue Grocery Outlet for the franchise. In fact, Grocery Outlet found the couple through a general application they posted on Monster.com.
“We thought about this for about a year, and Grocery Outlet was really perfect,” Brian said. “They’ll work with you as far as the financing, and their model is basically if you’re successful, they’re successful.”
Grocery Outlet has about 300 stores nationwide. The company plans to open 25 more stores nationally before the end of 2018. It also plans to open four more stores in Washington – in Bridle Trails, Pasco, Omak and Everett Claremont – in the next year or so, said Kyle Noble, Grocery Outlet’s senior manager for Regional Marketing and Communications.
Based in Emeryville, Calif., Grocery Outlet is “the fastest-growing, extreme-value grocer in the U.S.,” according to a news release sent out by the company prior to the opening of the Woodland store. Grocery Outlet locations span over California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington. A third-generation, family led company founded in 1946, Grocery Outlet’s mission has always been to provide customers an exciting place to find savings on name brands they trust. Grocery Outlet stores are run by independent owner-operators in the local community, according to the news release.
The Howards declined to mention the cost of opening their specific store, but Noble said the company often helps franchises with financing and the expenses are reasonable.
“This varies by location, but prospective independent owner-operator candidates can expect an initial investment of approximately $200,000; much of which can be financed by Grocery Outlet Inc.,” Noble said.
Grocery Outlet is also a bit unusual as a grocery store. The business model is to buy deeply discounted products, such as cereal brand surplus after a packaging change, overstock products or products bought from other grocery outlets that are going out of business.
That means products at the store will be significantly less expensive than at other grocery stores, but it also means the selection at the shop isn’t always all-inclusive like a full-service grocery store, the Howards said.
“We don’t always have every single item,” Launa said. “We have buyers that will buy up opportunistically, and we return that savings to the customer. Shoppers can save about 30 to 40 percent on everything.”
The basic idea for shoppers is to shop at Grocery Outlet first to save money, then finish off the rest of the shopping list at a full-service grocery. Still, the store does have a wide selection of produce, pre-packaged foods and fresh meat, she noted.
Running a store on their own is a big switch for the Howards, but one they feel very ready for, Launa said.
“You’re in charge of your own store, your own employees, your own human resources department,” she said. “What we want to do with that is build our own family feeling with the staff and our customers.”
Almost the entire staff of 31 employees are local Woodland residents, the couple said. Several Howard family members are among them, including Launa’s mother and the couple’s teenaged daughters. The pair also hired some employees along with their job-seeking teens, they said.
“We really want to have a family atmosphere, and we like to hire employees’ family members,” Launa said. “It’s also great to be able to work with so many relatives.”
About 1,300 customers showed up for the opening day festivities on Aug. 16, along with a strong showing over the opening weekend.
Carol Rounds, current mayor pro-tem in Woodland, attended the Grocery Outlet grand opening event on Aug. 16.
“Woodland is very happy to have their business here in a growing community as an only Grocery Outlet on the east side of the freeway,” Rounds said. “This will draw customers from the entire area.”
“It was super busy,” Brian said. “There was a lot of action – the adrenaline was pumping all day.”
The couple said they plan to host events at the shop in coming months, including a series of wine tastings, games and events with prizes. In November and April, the store will participate in a company-wide 20 percent off sale on wine, he added.
The shop also has an Honorary Hero Savings Card with special discounts for members of the military and first responders.
“We’re open, we’re full and we’re ready to go,” Launa said. “We hope people will come buy and check us out.”