ARLINGTON, VA. - FMI – The Food Industry Association recognizes exceptional grocery store managers through the organization’s annual Store Manager Awards.  

Store managers whose commitments are reflected in their stores’ positive financial performance, associate mentorship programs and their actions to create meaningful connections within their communities are chosen for the awards, according to FMI.  

FMI has named 10 store managers as this year’s finalists: 

  • Jim Grochowalski, Martin’s Super Markets, Stevensville, Mich. - “To say that Jim Grochowalski utilizes consumer feedback may be a bit of an understatement. This manager fosters customer loyalty and ensures optimal store conditions by reviewing shopper comment reports with all store employees. He also reaches out to customers personally who ask about certain products that are not available on the shelf. If bad feedback happens, he takes action. After fielding customer complaints about rambunctious teens from the nearby high school gathering at the store café, he created an after-school program staffed by employees. Now, the students do homework in the upstairs eating area until they are picked up by their parents, who, incidentally, come into the store to grab some groceries.” 

  • Kaitlyn Lester, Lunds & Byerlys, Eagan, Minn. - “Kaitlyn Lester’s adeptness at switching between roles and learning new ones has been honed over 22 years in the industry. More recently, her leadership role has been put to the test with the opening of a competing store right across the street. Lester responded swiftly and strongly, differentiating her store with effective merchandising programs, a broad produce selection, indispensable employees and expanded community outreach. She also created a “master class” for disciplined operators as a way to retain customers and profits. Those efforts helped drive traffic to the Lunds & Byerlys store – literally, as many shoppers drove into that parking lot instead of the competitor’s space.” 

  • Michael Siakpere, Skogen’s Festival Foods, Eau Claire, Wis. - “One of Michael Siakpere's often-repeated mantras is “We do excellence here.” For Siakpere, who worked as a guest service representative and assistant store director before ascending to his current role, that means aiming for excellence instead of an unrealistic expectation of perfection.  He believes that knowing that you tried your absolute best allows you to hold your head up high. He leads the pursuit of excellence at many levels throughout the store, starting with the fundamentals of cleanliness, accurate signage/pricing and stock levels. While his standards are high and he holds his team to them, the location Siakpere manages has had low turnover because of his collaborative approach that includes regular one-on-one meetings with staff leaders and willingness to give employees the tools they need to succeed.” 

  • Gary Cottingham, Giant Food Stores, Chambersburg, Pa. - “Gary Cottingham has led the company in customer count, total sales and percentage of store sales for the new GIANT DIRECT service that allows customers to shop online for pickup or delivery. He is one of those store managers who loads groceries into your car, gives your kids an apple or banana while they wait with you and tucks in a note from the store team into a small token gift. Connecting with others through communication is a hallmark of Cottingham’s managerial style. His nominators cite his authentic communications that combine the big picture, effective storytelling and encouragement of feedback. In customer interactions, Cottingham turns any negative feedback that his store receives – and such complaints are infrequent – into an opportunity to talk with shoppers and resolve their issues, preferably in person.” 

  • Joseph Stephens, Brookshire Grocery Co., Kilgore, Texas - In his role managing a Brookshire Grocery Co. store in Kilgore, Texas, Stephens regularly presents honor ribbons to team members with particularly strong performances. And that’s not the only effective morale booster: he’s known for hosting a mean cookout for his employees as a way to rally and reward them for their hard work. While he’s quick to recognize those who go above and beyond, Stephens sets a high bar for excellence at the 52,500-square-foot store he has managed since 2017, three decades after first joining the Brookshire business family. He communicates expectations broadly and also conducts one-on-one training and troubleshooting with employees who are challenged by certain processes or standards.  Under his mentorship, several team members have been promoted to leadership positions within the company. 

  • Aric W. Reicks, Fareway Stores, Inc., Boone, Iowa - “Since Aric Reicks' promotion to store manager at the Boone location in 2017, he has forged strong relationships with his team, often working side by side with them during training and supporting the company’s retail internship program with two to three internship hires per summer. He is a store management liaison for the development of a new pre-apprenticeship program for high school students, a role in which he brings his own relevant experience. Reicks thinks like a shopper, too, offering new categories and expanding the store’s to-go meal options. In line with the company’s focus on fresh, he recently spearheaded a complete renovation of the produce department that spanned display concepts, fixtures and technologies as well as new offerings. That upgrade has resulted in real financial gains for the department, and Fareway has since made similar upgrades in more than 120 locations based on the Boone store’s sales metrics and customer satisfaction.” 

  • Ray Brown, Kroger, Vine Street store, Cincinnati - “Ray Brown has a leadership style that combines dedication, mentorship, vision, agility and a good nature. He meets with his leadership team one on one and in group settings, where they set and then celebrate the achievement of goals . Before the grand re-opening, he gave each leader a legal pad, pen and a list of operational expectations. To welcome new associates, he meets with them personally and shares paths of advancement with them as a way to encourage their interest and development. He also implemented a front-end mentorship program, through which 10 of the most engaging staff members are chosen to coach cashiers and baggers on friendliness and service. His training is so thorough, in fact, that this site was chosen to be a company Academy Store for training new department leaders.” 

  • Jen Book, Hy-Vee, Inc., Altoona, Iowa - “Jen Book, manager of a Hy-Vee location in Altoona, Iowa, was lauded for 30-plus years of service and strong management skills. She is not one to let success get to her head, though, and typically works the sales floor to assist shoppers right alongside her team members. It’s a big team: she oversees 120 full-time and 270 part-time employees in a town with a population of 18,000.  Business is personal for Book, who works closely with staff members and prides herself in regular communication with them across the board, including face time with kitchen dishwashers, stockers, cashiers, pharmacists and hundreds of others. A believer in paying leadership forward, she has helped many employees advance and run their own departments and, in some cases, their own stores, by giving them special duties and projects.” 

  • Minesh Patel, Meijer, St. Charles, Il. - “Mentorship is a priority for Minesh Patel, who has worked in the food retail industry for 30 years and understands the importance of creating future leaders. In addition to shepherding employees through the company’s leadership development program, he is Meijer’s Western Regions Business Acumen Subject Matter Expert and delivers a leadership and business curriculum to line leaders and team leaders. His welcoming nature extends to the community. The St. Charles team donates its time, talent and treasure to a variety of causes, including the local Salvation Army, food banks, service organizations and other groups. Patel’s store brings the fun, too, including its sponsorship of the community “Scarecrow Fest,” which kids can make their own scarecrow at the Meijer booth.” 

  • Captain Raymond Mashudu Mutangwa, SPAR Thohoyandou, Superfecta Trading, Mutsindo, South Africa - “Mutangwa believes that offering exceptional service with a direct, innovative and sincere approach distinguishes SPAR Thohoyandou, one of the company’s biggest stores, in a competitive market. He was brought on board in December 2018 after stints as a risk manager and store manager at other SPAR locations, tasked with motivating the store’s 400-plus employees to go above and beyond. Starting with knowing and greeting each employee by name, he is a leader who clearly communicates goals with his staff through frequent meetings. He sets high expectations for quality, from regularly-updated displays to a constant assessment of the fresh offerings that are a hallmark of this store. To spread the word in the community about the overall value of shopping at SPAR Thohoyandou, he assigned two dedicated staff members to use the store’s PA system to communicate in-store promotions in local languages.”