Mike Teel is owner and chairman of Raley’s Family of Stores, Sacramento, Calif.
Meg Major: Welcome, Mike! In the past year, Raley’s has implemented a series of audacious moves, such as reducing candy by 25%, eliminating all conventional candy and carbonated sodas at the front end and abolishing private label soda and tobacco in Raley’s stores. What do you believe is most crucial to continue building on this course correction?
Mike Teel: The most crucial part is that the mission is being purpose-driven. We made the transition from being a great customer service and great quality products grocer to one with a larger mission and purpose. Elon Musk has made it his mission to advance sustainable transportation, and he sees it as great that Ford, BMW and Porsche all jumped in and started to compete and try to put Tesla out of business, because it advances his purpose and his mission. And it’s the same with us. I believe the timing is right for us to keep making both bold moves and incremental shifts that will eventually impact competition and actually change the world.
You began sharing your personal perspectives on hot industry topics in your “Minute With Mike” videos, which debuted late year on a dedicated YouTube channel. What galvanized you to take your impassioned consumer advocacy stance direct to the public?
We’re on a journey, and while we’re building up an audience, we’re experimenting with other ideas that might help us broaden its reach even more, and I think YouTube is the best medium to share our mission. I don’t use satellite anymore—I watch everything via the internet on Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube. In fact, my go-to Encyclopedia Britannica is YouTube, which is where I learn about everything new that excites me. So I think it’s a great platform of the future for people to learn and explore. And though what’s really driving YouTube for the younger audience is the ability to make money, I’m not on there to make money—I’m on there to build out our mission and let people connect with our brand and watch the brand transform itself.
Raley’s last year debuted a new small-format store—Market 5-One-5—just outside of downtown Sacramento focused on affordable natural and organic products and prepared foods. What do you believe is most significant to note about this unicorn store?
The store is a pointer for us—pointing us to where we’re going. While the format itself is under evolution and we’re learning as we go, it signals to the rest of the company, and mostly the corporate support center—the people who are making the [procurement] decisions—the direction of where I want to go, where I want to be and where I think the future is. And we couldn’t do that in either our Raley’s or Bel-Air stores because we’d leave our customers behind, so I wanted to make sure that we could actually deploy where we need to be and where we want to go. And it’s been really enlightening for us, and it also breeds friendly competition among our teams.
The Market 5-One-5 team is not under the structure as our other store teams are; they report directly up to the CEO. But it creates a bit of curiosity and competition and, in doing so, advances the mission within the mother ship.
As a third-generation grocer, you began your career, like so many of your industry peers, bagging groceries. What do you most enjoy about working in the retail food industry that others could benefit from knowing?
My grandfather always said, “You’ve got to do what you enjoy doing, and if you don’t, you should try something else.” And I never really liked grocery business and struggled with it for the longest time, so I found other ways to survive. But I found great purpose and personal satisfaction giving people in the grocery business opportunities to excel. When I acquired the company and was able to change the mission and leave an impact on the world is when I found something I really loved.
When thinking about a former influential authority figure from your past, what is the most important thing you learned from them, and how has it benefited you?
My grandfather was very influential in my life, whose guidance led me to discover doing something that today I truly love, and my dad, who taught me patience, which has served me very well.
What’s the most important lesson you learned from one of your biggest mistakes?
When I was CEO the first time earlier in my career, I made a bad mistake that put the company in a bad position. I was being disciplined for it but the board and my parents wanted me to stay. But I realized that I could never feel good about myself had I stayed because I knew that if I was anybody other than a family member, I’d have been fired. And so I stepped down, and the lesson I learned was: Do the right thing by being true to yourself. I quit, I focused on the character flaw that got me in trouble and I worked on it. And I’m a much better person today because of it.
What is your go-to favorite decadent food?
Dark chocolate is my top choice and carrot cake is second.
Who is your fictional hero?
Spider-Man. Because with great power comes great responsibility.
Favorite childhood TV show?
Dennis the Menace.
What is your least favorite business term?
How would you describe yourself in one word?
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Huh?” My mind is constantly going down a rabbit hole and I’m always asking, “What did you say?”
What superpower would you most like to have?