While Quality Foods co-founder Ken Schley spoke about leadership in the highly-competitive grocery business, it was the presence of his executive assistant that spoke volumes about faith and loyalty.
Schley was the guest speaker last Thursday at the Royal Coachman Neighbourhood during the Campbell River Chamber of Commerce’s business leaders luncheon.
More than 30 years ago, Schley and a couple buddies took over the bankrupt Qualicum Foods store in Qualicum. All in their mid-20s, the “green” grocers renamed the store Quality Foods – so they didn’t have to change the QF logo – and offered the employees their jobs back, with the same pay and benefits.
All of them balked.
Well, almost. One remained and that was Dianna Rivard who sat at the head table for the luncheon along with Schely’s son, Jordan, who’s the store manager at Quality Foods (QF) in Courtenay.
“Dianna started wrapping meat and now she’s looking after more than 800 people,” Schley tells audience.
Promoting in-house, and doing just about everything else in-house, is embedded in the philosophy at QF that grew from one store on Vancouver Island to 11.
“We’re not even on the Richter scale in Canada,” says Schley, referring to their ranking among grocers.
Being independent has always been a struggle, but thanks to a business deal a couple years back with Vancouver billionaire Jim Pattison, Schley and his partners got the capital to keep growing their business.
“Pattison wanted to buy us out because that was way easier,” said the affable Schley. “We just wanted his money!”
QF opened its Campbell River store at Merecroft Village in 2004 and is now finally poised to soon open its first store in Victoria, at Tillicum Mall.
“We always wanted to go to Victoria, but as long as Alex Campbell (the late founder of Thrifty Foods) was alive, that wasn’t going to happen,” says Schley, who recalls how Campbell was quick to snap up any available grocer that came up for sale.
Much of QF’s success comes from its in-house, can-do attitude. The company’s distribution warehouse in Errington is being expanded to 130,000 square feet, their techies develop QF software, they build their own stores, promote from within, and continue to develop innovative specials.
“I really like the Manager’s Specials, there’s always so many,” former mayor Mary Ashley tells Schley.
City councillor Andy Adams also praised QF and local manager Cyriel DeBruyne for their ongoing financial support of Campbell River’s Canada Day fireworks. It’s become a QF tradition that has spread to other Island communities.
“We just want to recognize Cyriel and the community engagement. We really appreciate it,” says Adams.
If there was one little sore spot, it was the mention of B.C.’s new liquor laws which will, when approved, allow grocery stores to sell beer and wine.
The dilemma facing QF is space. They don’t have big box stores and liquor takes up a lot of room.
Schley didn’t mince words when asked about the forthcoming change in liquor policy, “I hate them.”
He also isn’t keen the huge merger deals, “I don’t like to see the bigger get bigger. I want more competition!”