Robert ”Bob” Mariano is Chairman and CEO of Roundy’s, a $4 billion grocery retailer with more than 165 stores throughout the Midwest – including brands such as Pick ’n Save, Copps, and most recently, Mariano’s. The Mariano’s brand, a compelling hybrid that is part Euro Café and part specialty foods grocer, has been taking the Chicago market by storm. It’s a big bet, intended to add a much needed spark to a struggling Roundy’s group of stores. While big-box grocers such as Safeway’s Dominick’s have exited Chicago’s ultra competitive market, Mariano has been growing his new concept at a swift pace. The plan is to defy the odds and grow Mariano’s stores beyond Chicago to other states across the nation.
Over the summer, the straight-talking native Chicagoan paused from his busy rounds to share some impressively candid answers to questions about his growth plan, his approach to customer service and technology. Here are excerpts from our conversation at the Metropolitan Club of Chicago:
1. You are pursuing a rather aggressive growth plan with Mariano’s at a time when a lot of food retailers aren’t growing. So why are you being so aggressive?
Mariano: Well, carpe diem, you have to seize the day. There’s an opportunity in the Chicago market now, and we are working very hard to accomplish all that we want to accomplish. We added 13 stores this year, it’s about 6,000 employees. You have to turn your hearing aid off to Wall Street. The Street wants results in 13 weeks. But you build a business over a long period of time. I submit that if somebody came up with the idea of the 3M Corporation today, it would never be what it is today. Corporations from years ago took time, they had patience, they even made mistakes. You have to have a level of understanding of what the Street is looking for, but at the same time you have to keep your eye on the long-term value. I’ll admit, it does take a bullet-proof vest sometimes.
2. As a leader you have to be able to look out into the horizon. What is your vision for your stores?
Mariano: We’ve got to be totally differentiated from other retailers. I don’t want to look like Walmart, taste like Walmart, feel like Walmart. Do I want to be aware of what they do? Yes. But I don’t want to do anything like them. (more…)