January 2009

Outpacing the Category

By: Meridith May

Joe Lima uses his super(market) powers to perceive what it is that the Raley’s customer wants

Joe Lima, Category Merchant for Raley’s Family of Fine Stores.
Joe Lima is a master blender—of thoughts and ideas that is. In his 25 years of on-the-job, in-store retail experience, the six-foot-five Northern California native has worked for many managers and has held positions from stocking shelves to hand-selling.

“I didn’t plan on staying in retail,” Lima starts. “I’ve worked in grocery stores since I was 15. At first it was a job to get by when I was in high school, but one day I realized I was in it to become part of something much bigger. I tried to pick up on the strengths of the dozens of managers I have worked for at several different stores. My current foundation is similar to a Meritage: ideas, management style, mixed with my own ability to possess good old common sense.  It’s me at the base, and the building blocks are other people’s assets.”

He also realized how well he fit in.

“I discovered something about myself through making customers happy,” he smiles broadly; it’s evident that we have hit on something that makes it all click. “I really enjoyed finding the right products for people and truly understood the importance of service.”
Now 45, Lima has risen to a position within Northern California’s (and Northern Nevada’s) largest grocery chain—Raley’s—126 stores, including Bel Air and Nob Hill markets.

How he got there isn’t a story of a rise to power, but of Raley’s management having the insight to acknowledge talent, a dedicated work ethic and Lima’s ability to step in and make things happen.
In the 1990s, Lima began working for Raley’s as a night manager, stocking shelves. He worked his way up through management and, after 2000, he began managing one store after another.
“It always came back to a special passion in merchandising the wine, beer and spirits department,” he tells THE TASTING PANEL.

The proof was his ability to order more and “throw more loads” than anyone in the building.

It was really Lima’s interaction with the customer—not a unique concept, but one that is so simple and in principle makes the most sense—that helped him achieve his special ability to offer the just right products in these categories.

“I built a trust with the customer and, yes, coddled them—led them to the labels and brands that would satisfy their search.” And they welcomed those choices made for them.

Tristin Montgomery, V.P. of Sales and Marketing for Raley’s and Lima’s boss, had already noticed this interaction. “I was her assistant manager at some of the stores,” Lima points out. “I handled her wine and spirits sections, and she knew that I knew enough about the business to put me in this position.”

Although Lima is quite modest, one can’t hide the fact that performance speaks volumes . . . and that equates to volumes in sales.

“I came to work for her as a frozen-food buyer, but she’s a great manager and is perceptive. She knew my work ethic and offered me the position of Category Merchant [for wine and spirits] last March. The job was vacant for about three minutes. I wanted it, but I didn’t lobby for it. However, I am happy to say it’s the best job in the company.”

Blocking and Tackling

Now in the position for ten months, Lima admits timing was sensitive.

“I came along at the time when the economy was on a downward spiral,” Lima sighs. “There was a lot of ‘fluff’ on the shelves and it wasn’t moving.”
Frank Reis of Constellation Brands meets with Joe Lima to talk wine.

Lima went into customer-service mode and used his super(market) powers to perceive what it was that the customers wanted. “It seemed obvious to me, especially at down times. They were after familiar items at fair prices.”

According to Lima, it is a matter of “old school blocking and tackling” in managing a store-wide buying system that includes affordable brands with integrity, thinking first of Raley’s customers.

One program that Lima has successfully instituted to enable volume increase is a “tab” initiative, featuring tear-off tabs that are related to the coupon inserts in Raley’s print ads.

“Joe is an expert at merchandising,” states Frank Reis, National Accounts Manager for Constellation Brands and a wine industry veteran of over 40 years. “His tab prices are in effect for the entire month, which is a long time. Usually a store’s comfort zone is a week, or two at most. But this system allows the ordering of larger quantities—as much as 40 or 50 cases—and therefore better prices, with the luxury of four weeks to deplete inventory.”

Lima chimes in, “I know—it really works. I should have that patented.”





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