Although Autry Greer & Sons Inc. is in the process of renovating many of its Greer’s Market grocery stores with a more efficient format and upscale décor, the fifth generation, family owned company still maintains its roots. Old photographs such as the horse-drawn carriages in front of the original Autry Greer & Sons’ grocery warehouse in downtown Mobile, Ala., adorn the store walls of the popular Southeast supermarket chain, paying homage to the family patriarch and company founder.
In 1916, Autry Greer moved from Atlanta to Mobile and started a business selling fresh fruits and vegetables from the back of a horse-drawn wagon. He worked until he saved enough money to open a little corner grocery store, which, in time, grew to nearly 50 corner grocery stores throughout the Mobile area, according to his great-grandson, Vice President and Secretary Robert Greer. “From there, we opened a warehouse to store the groceries and were also heavy into hardware, feed and seed supply.”
Three of Autry Greer’s sons joined the business and worked in equal partnership. “My grandfather was born in 1900 and worked until about 1985,” Robert Greer recalls. About 20 years ago, Robert’s father, Chairman J. Barton Greer Jr., and uncle, President Jack V. Greer, bought their uncles’ shares in the company and became the sole owners. They are semi-retired now but will come by the office on occasion.
Today, Robert Greer and his cousin, Vice President and Treasurer Jackie Greer, run the day-to-day operations and are showing the ropes to the fifth generation of Greers.
Today, there are around 750 employees and 29 Greer’s Market and Food Tiger stores in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The company no longer operates its grocery warehouse but instead supplies its stores through Associated Wholesale Grocers, based in Kansas City, Mo. “They have huge buying power because of their size, so we can buy the groceries at a better cost for our customers,” Robert Greer says.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the company’s commitment to customer service. “We try to give our customers special attention and make sure they have a pleasant shopping experience with clean stores, lots of variety and good pricing,” Greer says. “We price our items as low as possible and yet still leave a margin of profit so we can improve our stores, pay our people well and continue to operate.”
Gold Star Stores
Autry Greer & Sons believes success can only be achieved through continuous improvement. “We think it’s vitally important to offer training opportunities to them so they can perform better for the customer,” Geer says.
The company recently rolled out its new Gold Star program to encourage employee motivation across its chain of stores. Through the help of mystery shoppers, each store is graded on a number of criteria, including friendliness, sanitation and customer service.
“If they score an A, they qualify as a Gold Star store and will be honored with a plaque and receive recognition in front of their peers,” Greer explains. “We also have Gold Star cards that we recognize individual employees with. If we catch employees giving exemplary customer service, we’ll give them a gold star card as recognition for a job well done. We have goals and objectives, and expect our store employees to meet those goals and objectives, but feel our job as the management is to help them do that. We are very involved with their personal needs and care very much about their well being.”
The company also is heavily involved in the surrounding communities. “We are very connected in the communities we serve,” Greer notes. “We help as many other nonprofit organizations as we can. We encourage our managers to get involved and have asked our other employees to do the same. One of our main focuses is to give back to the community, and, frankly, I think that’s one reason we’ve been able to stay in business and thrive as long as we have. If we take care of our customers and live our vision – which is ‘to bring added joy and well being to people’s lives’ – we can’t help but be successful.”