Two countries make up the island of Saint Maarten in the Caribbean, but they are not both Dutch – only one is. The other, Saint Martin, is French and includes approximately 60 percent of the island. It is one of the smallest islands to be divided between two countries, an arrangement that has persisted since 1648. This has made the grocery business very interesting on this island.
When Le Grand Marche Managing Director Anil Sabnani bought a Dutch supermarket named the Food Center in 2002, he decided to broaden its customer base. “The Food Center was very much a Dutch store,” Sabnani says. “A lot of their products were coming out of Holland.” Now with the number of tourists and cruise ships visiting the island from around the world, Le Grande Marche has broadened its offerings to include all ethnicities’ food favorites.
“We have a lot of timeshares in St Maarten,” Sabnani explains. “The tourist staying at the timeshares shop at our supermarkets, and they like the range of products we carry. Also, our supermarkets are strategically located to cater to different areas of the island.”
Le Grande Marche carries a variety of international products from North, South and Central America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. A full selection of fresh fruits and vegetables is available throughout the week. Many types of French cheeses and Dutch Gouda cheeses are stocked in the stores, along with hams and pate.
“We have more than 350 different varieties in wines,” Sabnani says. “We are also big in organics, and we have a full line of diabetic, Kosher, organic and gluten-free products. We offer duty-free liquors, duty-free cigarettes and Cuban cigars. The price on liquors, cigarettes and cigars are the best on the island and is cheaper than the neighboring islands.
“We fly in produce on a weekly basis,” Sabnani continues. “Fresh fruits, vegetables and seasonal produce are flown from the U.S. and Europe twice a week. Anything that is short-dated is flown in. Otherwise, we bring it through container shipping. A full range of dairy, deli and chill items are also flown from Holland and France every week.”
The company’s customer advantage program can work year-round to build loyalty with a majority of Sabnani’s resident customers as well as longer-term tourists who make significant purchases at the stores during their stays. The program gives customers one point for each Netherlands Antilles guilder worth of merchandise they purchase.
“They could redeem their points to get up to 10 percent of their shopping value in vouchers when they reach the maximum points,” Sabnani explains. “Also, they have an option to redeem it much earlier depending upon the amount of points they have. But most of the customers wait for the maximum of 15,000 points to get vouchers for 10 percent. The program is very unique, and the customers are very happy with it.”
Le Grand Marche offers yacht provisioning with free pickup and drop-off at marinas along with discounts on customers’ purchases. “Yacht customers choose us because of the varieties and fresh produce,” Sabnani asserts. “Also, our customer service to them is the best on the island. We pick them up and drop them at the marinas. A lot of yacht customers send their orders through the Internet using the order form we have at www.legrandmarche.net. We deliver it to them at the date and time they provide. Our website carries full contact information for managers and location details.
“One of our strongest points is our customer service,” Sabnani declares. “Our store is neat and clean. When a customer requests a product, we order it specifically for them. Also, we bring products to meet the growing trends in the food business. We constantly update our technology to improve our customer service. The people in St. Maarten voted us ‘The best supermarket’ for eight times in a row conducted by the leading newspaper on the island, The Daily Herald.”
Le Grand Marche’s stores are strategically located to cater to different areas of the island. Each store has a different concept to meet the customer needs of that area.
Le Grand Marche – which means “the big supermarket” in French – opened in November 2012 at Bush Road. The store is approximately 30,000 square feet. This supermarket is close to Philipsburg and caters mostly to the Dutch side of the island, so it carries many American and Dutch products. The store also carries a large variety of Indian, Chinese and South-Asian products.
The second Le Grand Marche was opened at Colebay in October 2006 and is close to the French border. This store has a large variety of French products and caters mostly to the French population, as well as the yachts for the marinas.
Le Gourmet Simpson Bay was opened in October 2006 and has approximately 8,000 square feet of retail space. It is located close to marinas, the airport, hotels and timeshare condominiums.
Le Gourmet Marche Cupecoy was opened in April 2010 and is close to the French border and airports, large condominium complexes and hotels. This store caters to a large French population, timeshares and hotels.
Sabnani thinks the island economy is stable and its duty-free status is an advantage over competing islands. “The future looks pretty steady,” he says. “We are planning to open another store in the near future.”