Rikeln Inc. is marketing Foy’s and El Globo Supermarkets in the border towns of Brownsville and Mission, Texas, with innovative strategies.
Despite presidential candidates’ talk of building walls between the United States and Mexico, the economies of Texas border towns such as Brownsville have never been based solely on companies and consumers on only one side of the border. When the peso was devalued by Mexico, business on the U.S. side of the border in Brownsville’s El Globo supermarket dropped.
“Before the peso devaluation, Brownsville was a booming town,” remembers Pete Charles, president and owner of Rikeln Inc., which owns the 29,000-square-foot Foy’s Supermarket in Mission, Texas, and the 31,000-square-foot El Globo. “With the peso as weak as it is, our challenge was to refocus on our American customer base in the face of pressure from larger chains,“ Charles continues. “Zeroing in on our core customer and over-delivering on what mattered most to them was the right decision at the right time for us.”
Charles – who just purchased Rikeln this past June – has a number of strategies to zero in on that core customer. A towering wall of cans pictured on the stores’ home page is one. “The Wall of Values is a staple of ours,” Charles says. “We’ve always maintained our walls that we had in both stores. They are about 50 to 60 feet long and it’s hard to say that any of these canned items are priced lower by anybody down here, and I’m also including Walmart. This is something that I am going to hold myself to as far as offering to our customers our Wall of Values.”
Charles has adapted the Wall of Values idea for the end caps in the stores and put a sign on top with the slogan, “All That Value.” “I’m taking this Wall of Values and incorporating it throughout the whole stores,” he says. A photo of the Wall of Values is on the stores’ new website, which Charles hired the Pollux Castor marketing firm to design and post, along with the new television commercials the firm has created. “We’ve hired them to get us up-to-date on everything throughout the store, including social media, which is very important,” Charles explains.
The stores are promoting their savings using the new “Mas” slogan – which means “more” in Spanish – in a variety of uses. “Mas” is used throughout the stores with whatever is being promoted, such as fajitas or beans. The display signs by the product say, “Mas Fajitas” or “Mas Pollo” when chicken is on sale.
The Foy’s and El Globo supermarkets take a multimedia approach to promotion. “Connecting with our base through social and digital media was one of my top priorities for PolluxCastor,” Charles says. “Our market wasn’t used to hearing from us across social media, the Web and digital. Every TV and radio promotion was present everywhere that was important to our customers. Without the influx of cross-border traffic, every customer is worth fighting for.”
The stores’ weekly ad is online, printed out for distribution in the stores and placed in one free newspaper and one with paid circulation. “We had already been working with Pollux Castor, but when I took over, I wanted to get more involved with marketing and use it more,” Charles says. “I am spending more money than we used to on advertising to get the name out there and show we are here.”
Serving many Hispanic customers, the two stores emphasize produce, which Charles’ brother handles. Other departments include a bakery, dairy, deli, meat, bulk spices and hot foods. “We’re doing a lot of scratch baking,” Charles notes. “The bolillos rolls are huge down here – it’s like a smaller submarine sandwich roll. They sell four or five for a dollar.”
All kinds of Mexican bread, cookies and cakes are baked from scratch at the stores, and the food also is catered for special events. “I’ve learned that customers like the taste of fresh-made bread, and the price is so much cheaper,” Charles stresses.
Uncooked tortillas that customers can prepare on a hot griddle at home also are popular, along with a full selection of Hispanic cheeses, to which 8 to 12 lineal feet of space in each store are devoted. The supermarkets also offer financial services such as check-cashing and bill-paying.
“The service departments are the ones that bring customers in and keep them there,” Charles emphasizes. “You can have low prices, but if customer service, the produce and the meat are not up to par, customers just won’t come to your store. Service departments are very, very important.”
Rikeln Inc. also has the use of a distribution center, which enables it to buy truckloads of products for its Wall of Values at a better price than in smaller quantities. This also allows Rikeln to purchase large quantities of specials from its main distributor in Houston and store them. Rikeln also sells some of its inventory to smaller stores. The distribution center is owned by the former owner of Foy’s and El Globo, Steve Grill.
Charles is celebrating his 40th anniversary with the stores this year. He started as a bag packer and worked his way up through every department. Charles emphasizes to his staff the importance of volume rather than margin in his business. “I want to bring back the old times, because I remember growing up with this company – I remember how it used to be,” Charles recalls. “The very first owner always told us, ‘I don’t take percentages to the bank, I take dollars to the bank.’”
A sales strategy of Charles’ is reducing the number of items that are on sale from 40 to 20 but offering better discounts on them. Despite the popularity of sale prices, Charles emphasizes that customer service is most important. “I don’t care if we run the cheapest prices in town,” he tells his staff. “If we don’t take care of the customers, when they leave the store they will never come back again.”