Men's Breakfast Report, January 2010
The Men’s Breakfast Group met Saturday, January 9 with Dennis Shelton, manager of the new Super S Food market. Saturday was in the middle of the hard freeze which froze our pipes and we had no running water. Father Eduarte went back to his church and brought us a five gallon jug of water. By the time he got it to our church Don Porter had managed to drain enough water from the pipes to fill a coffee pot. The water was heated and then poured over the outside pipe which had frozen. This melted the ice enough so we were able to get water. From then on the breakfast proceeded as normal.
Dennis was raised in the Houston area. His initial ambition as a boy was to become a professional football player, since a relative of his who was a pro football player drove a nice car and had a big house. By his sophomore year of high school he was one of the top players on his football team which was ranked as one of the best in the state. That year he had an injury on the field which cracked a vertebra in his neck leading to temporary paralysis. His mother demanded that he quit football, but he wanted to continue. They agreed to let his father decide. His father said that if he continued playing football and got paralyzed that they would take care of him for the rest of their lives. Once Dennis realized the consequences of a repeat injury he quit playing. The coach told them he could still be associated with the team as a statistician. This had the advantage that he rode the bus with the majorettes, but the disadvantage of being boring. After a few games he quit the team entirely.
After high school he enrolled at Texas Southern University, studying business. He also had a job at HEB as a stocker. He gradually worked his way up to other positions and was earning three dollars an hour. He found out that the meat cutters were making thirteen dollars an hour. He therefore went through the meat cutters apprentice program. After two years he became a journeyman meat cutter, managing the meat department, and was told that this was the last raise he was going to get. A while later the manager of the store waved a $10,000 bonus check in front of the department managers and said that if they were as smart as he was, they could get checks like this. Since Dennis thought he was smarter than the manager he transferred back to the grocery department and became assistant manager of a store. Last year Super S recruited him to be manager of the store they were taking over in Freeport.
Super S Foods was formed by three executives from HEB groceries. Two of the original partners have sold out so it is now a family-owned business. Super S has about 50 supermarkets. Their business niche is small supermarkets in small towns of about 5,000 population within three hours driving from San Antonio. The Freeport store is somewhat exceptional in that it is in a town of 12,000 population and about four hours from San Antonio, the chain’s headquarters. The Freeport store is one of the largest in the chain. Since the chain is relatively small it does not have the buying power of Kroger or Walmart, but gets its supplies from Grocer’s Supply, a wholesaler to independent grocers such as Supper S and Reck’s. This makes it difficult to compete on price and several people have commented that Super S prices are higher than the competition. Dennis said that they are working on this, but it is difficult because the margins are very small in the grocery business. Dennis said that his competitive advantage is service. People have noticed that employees of Super S have helped them find items instead of just sending them to an aisle. Dennis also said that he tries to provide some hard-to-find items that people request so that people will come to the store and buy the rest of their groceries. An example of this is that I mentioned that no one seems to be carrying fat-free French dressing which my wife likes. He called me later that day to tell me that they had fat-free dressing in stock. They may also try to get into the business of supplying boats since a boat may order a couple thousand dollars worth of food in a single order. This will require some extra work and may require the ability to deliver the food to the boat.
There was some discussion about the general economics of the local grocery business. Dennis said that a town the size of Freeport could support three to four supermarkets, instead of the two it has. He said that the problem is that many people from Freeport go to Clute or Lake Jackson to buy groceries. We asked if he thought that the economy was getting better or worse, but he said that he had not been here long enough to determine this.
As usual the men had an interesting discussion and a good breakfast. The next meeting will be February 13 with Father Eduarte, priest at Saint Mary’s Star of the Sea Catholic Church, as featured guest.