Lessons on growth & strategy from an iconic supermarket chain
What does it take to create the “Disneyland” of supermarkets? Scott and Nora sit down with Stew Leonard Jr., President and CEO of Stew Leonard’s, and find out what it takes to execute a vision, grow a brand and sustain a business that welcomes over 20 million visitors a year and has annual sales exceeding $500 million.
Producer: Bella Hutchins
Production, Mixing & Sound Design: Daniel Markus
Senior Producer: Katherine Milsop
VP, Head of Multimedia: Sarah Singer
Full transcript for this episode below.
Nora Ali: Okay, Scott.
Scott Rogowsky: Yeah.
Nora Ali: I have maybe popped into a Stew Leonard store for a couple seconds.
Scott Rogowsky: Couple seconds?
Nora Ali: I did not grow up with Stew Leonard's because I'm from Minnesota and we don't have those there.
Scott Rogowsky: Yeah. What do you got out there? Jewel-Osco?
Nora Ali: We have Cub Foods is where my family mostly went.
Scott Rogowsky: Cub Foods.
Nora Ali: Yeah. Rainbow Foods.
Scott Rogowsky: Rainbow Foods.
Nora Ali: We used to go to growing up and that was about it. I feel like I...
Scott Rogowsky: Y'all got a Target grocery shopping.
Nora Ali: Target, yes. Headquartered there. Yeah. Although Targets weren't as robust in terms of grocery offerings when I was younger. Now it is. I would love for you, Scott, to just describe to people like me, our listeners who are not super familiar what it feels like to be in a Stew Leonard's, what is the experience like?
Scott Rogowsky: Okay. Picture Chuck E. Cheese with the animatronic band, but instead of a stage where you're sitting there eating your crappy pizza, these little things are all around the store. They pop up in crazy places. When you walk in, there's a big rock that says, "Rule one, the customer's always right. Rule number two, reread rule number one." They're all hell bent on customer service. They have this labyrinthine route into the store. At least this is the store in Norwalk, the original, which I used to go to growing up. I know they've opened up several since and maybe they're more conformed to a more sensible pattern, but that original one, going through ins-and-outs and cubbyholes.There'd be this entire section, like an open kitchen at a modern restaurant where you see the chefs cooking. Instead of a kitchen, it was the dairy farm. There'd be people and gloves and sanitation jackets in there filling the vats of milk. They're actually bottling the milk right there. The milk's being pasteurized right in front of you, all fresh. I don't know. There's a train that would go all around the store, a little model choo-choo train. Every little thing to capture a child's attention, noises and bells and doohickeys and things. There'd be a petting zoo out front. They would have a big pumpkin patch for Halloween. It was a destination. It was more than a grocery store. Look, I grew up probably 45 minutes to an hour away from Norwalk, Connecticut, where that store was. But the fact that we would go shopping there when we had so many other grocery stores right in town near us just proves the reach that they had. It was about capturing the kids' attention, I think.
Nora Ali: It's a family experience and it's known for the entertainment value, but as we learned from Stew Leonard Jr., you got to have quality products in the store.
Scott Rogowsky: Yes.
Nora Ali: Today we are talking to Stew Leonard Jr. ., Who is the president and CEO of Stew Leonard's supermarkets, once dubbed the Disneyland of dairy stores by the New York Times. Stew Leonard's serves over 20 million visitors per year and has annual sales exceeding $500 million. The store is famous for what you mentioned, Scott, the costume characters, petting zoos, and animatronics that are scattered throughout the markets. Stew joins us today to discuss the role of show business in his company, reinventing the business model of an industry, and the dynamics of family business. Our conversation with Stew Leonard Jr. . is right after this quick break. From Morning Brew, this is Business Casual, the podcast that reveals the unexpected business story behind everything. I'm Nora Ali.
Scott Rogowsky: And I'm Scott Rogowsky. Nora and I are here for your ears, bringing you conversations with creators, thinkers, and innovators who can tell us what it all means and why we should care. Now let's get down to business. Stew, my mother grew up in Norwalk, Connecticut, Norwalk High School graduate. My grandma lived in Westport. I grew up in Westchester County, but my mom would take me across the border to Connecticut. We'd go shopping at Stew Leonard's. We'd always go to Stew's and we'd hit those aisles of the animatronic cows. I loved the Farm Fresh Five, the whole thing. You put together quite the operation, especially for kids like myself. For those listeners who don't know Stew Leonard's, the man or the retail operation, the grocery store, it is a very small regional operation. Do you want to explain to the listeners where you're located, how you got started, just the background of the whole family business here?
Stew Leonard Jr.: First of all, my grandfather started delivering milk back in 1921. He literally had milk trucks and he had a dairy plant where he bottled all the own milk. And in the fifties my father took it over after he passed away. He kept delivering milk. I grew up right there next to the dairy plant. Then in 1969, my father decided to change from the home delivery over to retail. He opened a small dairy store up with eight items in 1969 in Norwalk, Connecticut. Just to give you a little reference, we're one hour from New York City along the Connecticut coast. We have a lot of roots in this community. We opened that store up and the concept really then was bring the stuff fresh from the farm and get it right to the customer as fast as you could. It was a farm-to-table back in 1969. One of the things, my dad, he was very creative. He had a big glass window, which you probably remember, Scott. You could look in and see the milk being bottled, right?
Scott Rogowsky: Yeah.
Stew Leonard Jr.: Right there, so how fresh could it be?
Scott Rogowsky: Yeah, no, I never see anything like it, too. You go to other grocery stores, you don't see that behind the glass, looking into the operation itself.
Stew Leonard Jr.: Right. We call that today "show and sell." Okay. Show everybody making something and then sell it right there. We want to build on that and keep it fresh. All of a sudden, the farmers around started hearing about the success of this farmer's market with a roof. The next thing they said, "Could I bring my corn down and sell it? Could I bring my squash? Could I bring my fresh fish?" Then we started getting meat from the Midwest and my sister came back from France and she worked with a family that baked. She wanted croissants and baguettes in the store so we started a little bakery. Then we started hiring chefs to do prepared food. What we ended up with is a big fresh market. It grew a lot in the eighties. I went to UCLA, I went to business school out there, came back and I said, "Gosh, this is so cool. One store. I think we could build it. I think we could grow this concept. It's really cool." In 91, we opened our store, 99, our third store in Yonkers, New York. Then we've expanded. Now we have seven big food stores. Due to the laws back here, we have eight wine and liquor stores. We have about a hundred thousand customers a week coming through Stew Leonard's, getting a hundred trailerloads of product in every week. We've still kept the same concept, which is have good relationships with all the local farms and chickens and eggs and lobster bin and salmon producers and so forth and get it to the store as fast as we can every day, sell it fresh at a great price. That's been our family mantra for almost a hundred years now.
Nora Ali: Yeah. Even beyond the quality of the products, there's obviously the entertainment factor at your stores as well. Let's get to some of the inspiration behind that. Your father was famously inspired by Walt Disney and the New York Times even called his original dairy market, the Disneyland of dairy stores. What attracted him so much to Walt Disney and that ethos?
Stew Leonard Jr.: You know what I think happens, Nora, is we look for excitement just around us all the time. Our family trips, when we were younger, he started bringing us on trips to Disneyland. We were just sitting here, it's a small, small world, blah blah. We're looking at the people waiting in line to get in there. We're looking at how excited the people were at Disney and we said, "Let's try to create that magic back at Stew Leonard's." That was really an inspiration for a lot of our animation shows that we have. We've stayed in touch with Disney over the years. We've even talked with the VP of Imagineering down there just to ask them, how did they come up with new ideas and create excitement for their customers at Disneyland? The second thing we did all the time, which is another excitement thing, was another family trip was Las Vegas. We loved to go to Las Vegas as a family. Those shows that they had out there were so impactful on our family. Wow. Wow. Same thing with going to Broadway in New York, which is so close. We'd go down to watch Alice in Wonderland and it's magical. You walk in off of Times Square there and the next thing you know, you're in a magical room for a couple hours and glued to your seat. There was this inspiration, I think, among the whole family to be like sponges out there in the environment and look for things that excite people.
Scott Rogowsky: What was most instrumental to your business here? Was it the show business approach? Was it a combination of all these things? Was it basically trying to attract the children, the kids, because if you can entertain the kids, you're going to get the parents to come? That's an old retail motto, isn't it?
Stew Leonard Jr.: Scott, it's a good point, but one of the things that matters the most is you got to eat everything we sell. Okay? I got to eat it and if we're having Thanksgiving, everybody wants to sit around the table and go, "Yum. That was a really good Thanksgiving." I think the basis of our company is quality and you really have to produce good tasting product. That's a goal myself, our management team, our whole family has, is to try to go out there and find the best. A good example, we opened up a store in Paramus, New Jersey. We have a kitchen with a great chef from the Culinary Institute of America, but we're noticing all our team members are leaving the store because we're attached to a mall and they're going up to Chick-fil-A to buy their chicken sandwich. Okay? Here we have these big buffets of food, but our team members are going up to... Hey, let's go figure what's going on up there. They have that knockout chicken sandwich, so you know what we did? We did what we call at Stew Leonard's, RD plus I. It's not research and development. It's retrieve and duplicate and improve. We got Chick-fil-A sandwich. We figured out how to make it exactly, but we put a little extra sauce and an extra pickle on. Okay? We're selling a ton of those things every single week as a Stew Leonard chicken sandwich.
Scott Rogowsky: Wow.
Stew Leonard Jr.: The basis of it, you can have all the innovation around it you want and all the fun and nice customer service and all of that, but if you don't have a great chicken sandwich that you're selling in the store, everything else is for naught.
Nora Ali: That's such a great business lesson. Maybe when people think about Stew Leonard's, they do think of the animatronics, the fun experience, but if the quality of the food wasn't great, then people wouldn't come because then it's just not worth it. I think that's great. How do you make sure that your employees are focused on this and that does continue to be the core of the strategy, is to provide quality products to your customers?
Stew Leonard Jr.: Nora, that's a good question. I think it's something that I've wrestled with just growing up as the next generation in the business. There's a lot of great values that owner-entrepreneurs have espoused when they started, but they get diluted along the way. When you talk about quality, it's something I have to talk about all the time. Okay. Our management team has to talk about it all the time. Our family has to talk about it all the time. I'll tell you one thing that's amazing about my dad: He's 92 years old right now. I'll still get a call from him all the time. "That chicken Marsala that you're selling down there doesn't taste as good as the great Italian restaurant I go out to, to get chicken Marsala." There's I think a lesson there that he's always talking about quality and trying to improve the product all the time. I think anybody that has a business... It could even be a service business. It doesn't have to be a food business. Try to improve all the time and want to be the best and have that core element that at bottom is that you really want to be great at doing what you're doing, whether it's selling product or selling a service.
Scott Rogowsky: We're going to take a quick break. We'll hear more from Stew Leonard right after this. Many aspects of Stew Leonard's business model strays from the typical approach that we see in the grocery industry. In addition to your dedication to show business, you have this approach to stocking products that is quite unusual. First, like you said, you cut out the middleman. You're getting items direct from the manufacturers, from the farmers, from the suppliers, not having distributors, which most grocery stores have, these big distributing companies. Why did you decide to do that? How instrumental has that been to the store's success?
Stew Leonard Jr.: Scott, a couple things lead to that. First of all, most grocery stores might have 80- to 100,000 items in them. We have 3,000 and they're mainly around the perimeter walls of the store. If you go to Whole Foods, even Costco, you go into Trader Joe's, most of the fresh products are out on the wall due to refrigeration and the back rooms it needs. We're mainly fresh, we're limited items. We're able to buy in high volume with those limited items. There's a theory out there called the Pareto principle, which is 80% of your sales are going to come from 20% of your items. Sometimes even I'll walk into the store, we'll have 50 or 60 rosé wines. You don't need that many rosé wines. If you look at it, there's probably about 15 of them that do most of your business, but you want to focus on fewer items and what your bestsellers are. We're able to do that at Stew Leonard's. It gives us a opportunity to build bigger displays, buy better from our suppliers, cut out the middleman, because we don't have to buy 20 cases of this and 20 cases of that. We could say to them, send us a trailerload or send us a straight job if it's a smaller local farmer. I think that's helped us with freshness. You know what? It's also helped us during the pandemic. We were able to keep our shelves full at the store because we didn't have a supply chain disruption. We were able to go right to the farmer and talk to him. Now, the farmer had his own issues. Sometimes he had to drive the truck himself because he didn't have enough help, but we got the product and the shelves were full. We like having that model where you go direct and you cut out the middleman.
Nora Ali: Then if 80% of sales are coming from 20% of the items, you better get those 20% of items correct. Tastes are changing, preferences are changing, maybe more focus on, say, healthful products, plant-based products. How do you go about selecting the items that you stock and stay up with the times?
Stew Leonard Jr.: I think you have to be looking around and have your eyes and ears open. We have this object that's called the idea cow where the cow is eating all of these ideas and they come from suppliers. They come from our team members working here at the store. We have 55% of our team member base of nearly 3,000 employees are minorities and from all different countries around the world. There's different flavors that they can make and all sorts of cool things. We look for ideas from them. We also are lucky enough to have New York City just a stone's throw away. I would say every great idea in the food business probably is happening around the New York City market right now. We're down there with our antennas up like this, looking for new ideas all the time. What we want to do is... We call it find a line. If you see a line of people waiting to get in somewhere, go wait in line and figure out what they're selling.
Scott Rogowsky: You're certainly ringing the register at your seven locations, Stew. $500 million in sales. This is a winning formula, yet another unusual business decision that you've made is centered around the speed of your growth. You already talked about how long it took to go from that one store in 69 to the second one in 91, third in 99 and now you have a few more. Still, most companies doing this much revenue and finding such success with customers are going to be approached by investors or VCs or something that say, "Let's fuel this growth. Let's do a hundred new stores. Let's do a thousand new stores. Let's just grow all across the country." You've pretty much turned that down, decided to stick with your guns, keep it local, keep it to the family. Why haven't you continued expanding like your Krogers with thousands of locations? Why haven't you decided to become a national chain?
Stew Leonard Jr.: Scott, that's a great question. It's almost philosophical in a way. Part of a business has to be a core love and passion for what you're doing. I think if you look at every entrepreneur, Steve Jobs, you go out and look at even Elon Musk right now, Disney... You look at all of them, there was a passion to do something great with their business. I think what our family wants to do is really make sure we deliver really good product and service to our communities that we're living in. It's not really about the money. Our families never wanted to get tremendous amount, a hoard amount of money. We're proud of the impact we make on our communities. We want to really help people. I feel very proud at Stew Leonard's. Over 80% of our people have been hired from within. We brought people who swept the parking lot, couldn't speak English, and they're now running a kitchen at Stew Leonard's. They sent their kids to high school and college. One of our guys from Haiti who started that way, his daughter's a lawyer for the department of justice now. How good does that make you feel in your life? Okay, you get private equity in here, they want to fire all those people and get somebody in here who's less expensive maybe to work here. They don't understand the business. I've seen a lot of expansion, rapid like that, crash and burn. We have a lot of pride in what we do. We're hoping we could continue that from generation to generation. We're growing and we're growing, but not super fast. We don't want the wheels to come off.
Scott Rogowsky: I agree with you. You hear about some of these companies with their ambitions and their scale. It's like, what's the point? When is enough enough? You make a good amount of money. You've got good team. You've hired good people. You see them grow. You can pay them well. You can redistribute to them. Just be happy with that. I totally agree with your philosophies, Stew. I really appreciate that you've taken that path.
Stew Leonard Jr.: You see my stomach here? I don't want to fill it anymore. I can drink whatever wines I want. I can keep the steaks, but I got to trim back right now. I can't even order what I want to order. On that note, Scott, I feel good about this career that I'm in. We are helping America in our own little way right here. We have great wages, great benefits. We take care of our people. We're offering a great service for our customers with fresh food. We're helping as much as we can with the environment. We're trying to help with nutrition by bringing better organic foods, non-GMOs, working on our packaging to reduce the amount of cardboard and plastic that we're using. I feel pretty good when I put my head on the pillow at night producing something here in America. I don't know. It might be a little lah-di-dah kind of vision, but I'm happy right now in my life.
Nora Ali: I think that's important to point out. You have your values in place and that's what drives you, not just pure expansion or being the biggest. Let's, on that note, take a very quick break. More with Stew Leonard Jr. . When we come back. Now, Stew, of course, Stew Leonard's is a family business with you and your siblings each catering to different arms of the company. What are some of the considerations that are at play when it comes to outsourcing talent versus hiring from within your family and keeping it within the family?
Stew Leonard Jr.: I'm putting a book together right now. I'm writing a book and I'm in the middle of it. One of the chapters is going to be on family business and you know what the title's going to be? "I love it and I hate it." Look, you have to blend together a family and you have to blend together a business. I haven't met anybody whose family just runs harmoniously all the time. I'd be lying if I said we're always hugging and kissing each other around a dinner table every Sunday or something. Okay. It doesn't happen. What I would say is that the family has to embrace the fact that it's a competitive world out there. Okay? This is not about entitlement. You can't just assume, because you have the last name Leonard, that you're going to automatically just be able to have a job here at the store. We've put in some pretty strict barriers. You got to finish college. You got to go work for a company for three years outside the business. You can't come immediately in here. The third one is, once you join here, you have what we call a 360-degree performance review where you're being assessed every year on what the other people think of working with you here. If you have low ratings on that, you really are going to be called to the carpet. We've already had one family member that didn't cut the grade. It doesn't go well within the family, but we have to make sure that we have good talent here at Stew Leonard's. If we can't find it, back to your question, from within, you really have to go out and look externally to have the very best people you can.
Scott Rogowsky: What happens to that family member? They get banished to the cornfield, like in The Twilight Zone?
Stew Leonard Jr.: Listen to this quick story. It's a two hat story. My brother one time was working here. He went to Florida and he wasn't supposed to, for spring break. Okay? He was told he couldn't because the story was busy. He comes back and my father says, "Come over to the house. We're taking the jacuzzi together." My brother's like, wow, they really missed me. I'm probably going to get a promotion or something. Instead my father sits there and says, "I'm going to put the hat on as your boss. You left when you were told not to." He said, "I want to tell you're fired." He said, "Let me take that hat off. I'm going to put the hat of your father on." He said, "Son, I'm sorry to hear that you just lost your job." He said, "Let's talk about the next steps." We've tried to keep the work ethic in place through the generations here at the store.
Scott Rogowsky: That's a great story and really illustrates the difficulty. Like you mentioned, you said you love it and hate it when it comes to the family business because there is a personal side and a professional side. They can sometimes clash when it comes to the business and you have to manage it as well. That's a story that your father had to manage with your brother. Do you have stories, you now running the company having to manage it in a similar way?
Stew Leonard Jr.: I think the thing that I've learned in my role is you have to keep everything transparent and fair. One of the things I've seen among my friends who have been in family businesses, the dad or the mom passes away. Then all of a sudden, a lot of past practices get uncovered. One brother says, "Wait, I didn't know dad and mom were doing that for that sister." They threw a little cherry bomb in the next generation. I think what's important is I try to be as transparent as I can with everybody. Everybody knows what salaries everybody makes and why, which compensation is usually a big issue among family members, their value to the organization. We actually have an outside group of some people in and outside the business that will actually look at everybody's resumes and evaluate their contribution of the business and try to give them an outside perspective on what it's like, like in the real world. I'm really trying to promote that as much as I can right now because it's important to have a, what they call in family business, governance, which is where you develop, I don't want to say policies, but certain procedures people have to go through that everybody agrees on when the sea is calm. The goal is really to keep the business running successfully from generation to generation.
Nora Ali: Stew, the grocery business runs deep in your blood clearly. Scott and I want to get your take on what you think the future of the grocery industry looks like. We had an episode for Business Casual recently, where we talked about these new 15-minute grocery delivery companies that have been popping up left and right. What are your thoughts on some of these quick delivery companies and what are you most optimistic about when it comes to the future of grocery?
Stew Leonard Jr.: You know what, Nora, right now... I've been doing this for 50 years. I would say right now, you know that nice little crystal ball I had? It's broken. Okay? There is so much happening in our space right now. It's more than I've ever seen before. COVID threw all sorts of wrenches in it. Home delivery, which used to be 5% of our business, with Instacart and curbside pickup jumped up to almost 25% during the pandemic. Now it's settled down to probably around 10-ish percent right now. The question is, where's the delivery business going to go in the future? You have some people that want it delivered to their house. Other people like to come in and touch the product and smell the product and feel the product. There's a little division today I think between how fast the home delivery business is going to grow versus onsite retail. I don't think retail's dead, but I think boring retail's dead. I think you have to create a fun place. My daughter, who has two little kids, still wants to go out and do something fun with her kids. You're not going to have her go online and stay home and do Zoom to go to an animal farm or something. They'll want to come to the store. Another thing that you notice Zabar's did down in New York City was, they've created an amazing online business, a .com business where they're shipping a lot of their product out all over the country. People I think today are a lot more used to delivery. Every day I get home, there's a package. You know, I don't know about you guys.
Nora Ali: Yes.
Stew Leonard Jr.: It's just more of a common thing. Where that's going and how much of the pie is going to be eaten... The question we have is how much do you want to invest in? Do you want to put a lot of money into the .com business today? It's expensive because you got to spend 20% of your sales on advertising. You got to be out there all over the internet. That's a lot of money. It's going to be interesting to see where that goes. What I want to do is have a very agile, quick reacting organization so that if I see a little bright spot out there, we can quickly change and adapt and get into that business.
Scott Rogowsky: Wow. You're getting me hungry, Stew. I love talking about grocery stores and I'll never not go to the store in real life. I'm not an online delivery type of person, especially grocery. It's a great date idea. Let's go to the grocery store. It's just a fun thing to do when you're bored. Let's go to the grocery, see what's new, see what new products are out there. Nothing's going to replace that for me. I think you're in a good position there. Let's just test your position here, Stew, because it's time for Quizness Casual, the Business Casual quiz. We're going to see what you know about the grocery store industry outside of your own seven stores there. You're going to have Nora by your side here to help you along.
Stew Leonard Jr.: Okay.
Scott Rogowsky: Okay. Feel free to lean on her.
Stew Leonard Jr.: Do I get a prize? If I do good, do I get a prize or something?
Nora Ali: Bragging rights. Fame and glory.
Scott Rogowsky: Yeah. I'll come by. I'll be a store greeter for a day at the Norwalk location. I'll fly back and [crosstalk] handout cheese curds. Okay?
Stew Leonard Jr.: All right. Apple cider donuts.
Scott Rogowsky: Those apple cider doughnuts. Man, I really do miss it. It's been a while since I've been to Stew's. We need one in LA, but here we go. Let's get into the quiz. We've got three questions for you. These are pretty tough. I got to say, we've done a lot of these, but this is one of the tougher ones. Let's see how well we do.
Stew Leonard Jr.: Okay. Fire away.
Scott Rogowsky: Fire away with qumero numero uno: Which of the following grocery stores runs its own cooking school? Publix, Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, or Trader Joe's?
Stew Leonard Jr.: I'll start out elimination. I know Trader Joe's doesn't. Harris Teeter, I'm not as familiar with, but they're pretty good right there. Publix almost does everything. What the other store you mentioned?
Scott Rogowsky: Whole Foods.
Nora Ali: Whole Foods.
Stew Leonard Jr.: Whole Foods. I take out Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. I'll go with Harris Teeter.
Nora Ali: All right. Harris Teeter.
Scott Rogowsky: Harris Teeter. Where are their Harris Teeters?
Stew Leonard Jr.: They're mainly down South, right down around Atlanta, Georgia, North Carolina.
Scott Rogowsky: Yeah. Yeah. I'm not too familiar with them, but it is not Harris Teeter. It's a little farther South: Publix.
Stew Leonard Jr.: [crosstalk] Okay.
Scott Rogowsky: You almost had it. With classes for kids, teens, and adults, Publix runs its own cooking school called Aprons, which is in 11 cities. They have calendars full of classes like Sushi 101, pasta making workshops, game-day grub, and online classes. There you go. All right. That was a tough one though.
Stew Leonard Jr.: They're a great chain, Publix. They're big and they're great and they're family-owned still too.
Scott Rogowsky: There you go. I was going to ask if all the family owned businesses are... You have your own Facebook group or group chat or something where you all...
Stew Leonard Jr.: You know what? There isn't a formal round table, but there's always accessibility if you call up. They all want to learn. The same issues confront all family businesses.
Scott Rogowsky: Next question here. We're talking about Trader Joe's. What was the Trader Joe's chain originally called when they first launched? Was it Flex Foods, Pronto Markets, Bevwood Grocer, or Vaughn's?
Nora Ali: I do not know this. Do you know Stew?
Stew Leonard Jr.: Joe Coulombe came back here when he had the original Trader Joe's, back to visit us to see how much milk we sold. It's one of those crazy names. I'm going to go with the Pronto Market.
Scott Rogowsky: Yeah. Pronto Market? Bingo. Pronto.
Stew Leonard Jr.: Okay.
Nora Ali: Yes.
Scott Rogowsky: Yes. Do you remember it?
Stew Leonard Jr.: No, I don't remember it, but I know it was a crazy something that they started out with that was totally different than Trader Joe's.
Scott Rogowsky: Right. It was like a convenience store and then did it for 10 years and switched up the business model and switched the name as well.
Stew Leonard Jr.: Isn't it remarkable what's happened to Trader Joe's?
Scott Rogowsky: Amazing.
Stew Leonard Jr.: I had lunch with that Joe Coulombe maybe 10 years ago out in... He lives in San Marino, which is right out where my in-laws are from. I had lunch with him and his whole pocket was full of pens. He looks like an engineer. He's not at all like what you'd think Trader Joe. He just went out and found really good deals for everybody and brought them into this location.
Scott Rogowsky: Yeah. Yeah. All right. You're doing a great job here. Let's see if you can wrap it up with the final question, which of the following is Costco's bestselling product? Toilet paper, rotisserie chicken, gas, or bacon?
Stew Leonard Jr.: Toilet paper.
Scott Rogowsky: Without a doubt, huh?
Nora Ali: He is confident in that answer. It makes sense.
Scott Rogowsky: We all need it.
Nora Ali: Everyone's got to use it.
Stew Leonard Jr.: Yeah, I know, but if I didn't read about that at one time, I wouldn't have guessed that. I would've thought something bigger, like chickens or gas or something.
Scott Rogowsky: Well, gas because I know they have a lot of gas stations, but Costco, yes. Toilet paper is their bestselling product. Over a billion rolls of toilet paper sold each year.
Stew Leonard Jr.: When I was out in LA in 82 or 80 actually, I met Sol Price from the Price Club. I went down to visit him in San Diego. Then when Jim Sinegal started up Costco and took that over, they bought out Price Club. And we got to be friends with Jim Sinegal. He's out in Washington right now, Seattle, I believe. He always used to come to Stew Leonard's and even wrote in Business Week once, he used to window shop here. He'd come in and look for new items and everything at the store. I admire him a lot. He's done a tremendous amount for the food industry.
Scott Rogowsky: You should write the quiz, Stew. You know more trivia than any of us do here. Who knew that... Wait, Price Club's founder's actual last name was Price? What a coincidence.
Stew Leonard Jr.: Yeah, Sol Price.
Nora Ali: I had no idea.
Scott Rogowsky: That's pretty good.
Stew Leonard Jr.: Sol Price down there. Then we were even at Sam Walton's, the 13th Sam's Club that he opened, was the first time we met Sam Walton and we went to the Price Club and I believe it was Arizona and blown away. He put us in a station wagon, drove us over to Walmart and we developed a little relationship with Walmart. That's where we came up with our weekly meetings, like his Saturday morning meeting. When we went and saw the success of that, the enthusiasm that he created every Saturday, we came back and started doing that at Stew Leonard's. We pick a lot of ideas out from a lot of people and try to bring them back here to Stew Leonard's.
Scott Rogowsky: We hope that our podcast gives people other ideas to start their own businesses or improve their own business. It all circulates.
Stew Leonard Jr.: Yeah.
Scott Rogowsky: This is fantastic, Stew. Thank you so much for your time here. Really appreciate it. Supermarket icons, Stew Leonard and the family. It's just, again, very nostalgic for me to be talking to you, to talk to the actual Stew behind the name.
Stew Leonard Jr.: Thank you. It was pleasure being with you today.
Scott Rogowsky: We love hearing from our Business Casual listeners. Please hit us up, especially if you have anything to tell us about Peloton. That's right. We're working on an episode about Peloton instructors. We'd love to hear your thoughts. Have you tried the service? Do you have a favorite instructor? Shout them out. Send us an email at BusinessCasualMorningBrew.com or DM us on Twitter, @bizcasualpod, that's B-I-Zcasual pod, with your thoughts.
Nora Ali: You can also leave us a voice memo on our website, businesscasual.fm, or give us a ring and leave us an old-fashioned voicemail. Our number is 862-295-1135. As Business Casual grows, we are excited to get to know our listeners old and new. Drop us a line and don't forget to leave your name and where you're calling or writing from so we can hear from you in a future episode.
Scott Rogowsky: Business Casual is pasteurized by Katherine Milsop and Bella Hutchins. Additional production sound design and mixing by Daniel Markus. Sarah Singer's our VP multimedia. Holly Van Leuven is our fact checker. Music in this episode from Daniel Markus and The Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. If you like what you heard, please follow Business Casual on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you go for ear candy. We'd love it if you'd give us a great rating and a review.
Nora Ali: Thanks for listening to Business Casual. I'm Nora Ali.
Scott Rogowsky: I'm Scott Rogowsky.
Nora Ali: Keep it business.
Scott Rogowsky: And keep it moosual. And keep it casual.