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Remarkable Independents’ Confidential: Trig’s Execs Bob Jaskolski and Kindl Furtak

Trig’s president and marketing director discuss the eight-store indie's masterful merchandising strategies and philosophies
Photographs courtesy of Trig's

As one of WGB’s 2019 Remarkable Independents in the Masterful Merchandising category, northern Wisconsin-based Trig’s, a subsidiary of T.A. Solberg Co., has tailored each of its eight stores to meet the specific needs of the communities they serve. Taking a hands-on approach to merchandising, Trig’s owns a meat processing plant where it creates signature sausages and smoked offerings and develops its marketing resources in-house to align its expertise with the needs of its customer base. “Our guest experience keeps us relevant as a food retailer in 2019,” says Trig’s President and COO Bob Jaskolski.

Renowned as innovators known for quality products and a commitment to be first-to-market with new products, events and services, Jaskolski and his team are “passionate about innovation for our guests and the communities we serve. We allow our team to think outside the box to deliver unique guest experiences. As a result, you will see our associates do what other retailers will not,” said Jaskolski, who expanded on Trig’s philosophies and strategies in this WGB web exclusive.

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Bob Jaskolski, president and COO and Ken Cloutier, EVP and CFO

WGB: What do you believe is most significant about being an independent food retailer in 2019?

Bob Jaskolski: Our guest experience keeps us relevant as a food retailer in 2019. The dynamics of the industry as a whole are changing very quickly, making it vital for independents to be adaptable and innovative. As a smaller, independent retailer, it is important to compete with the giants of the world through education, training, product expertise and the in-store experience. Having associates who are committed to excellence keeps our guests coming back.

WGB: What do you consider to be most special about your company, and what are you most proud of?

Jaskolski: We are innovators, known for our quality products and commitment to be "first to market" with a new product, an event or a service. We are passionate about the innovation our team brings to our guests and the communities we serve. We allow our team to think outside the box and deliver unique guest experiences. As a result, you will see our associates do what other retailers will not.

We’re proud of our best asset, our team of associates, who all are passionate about our industry and strive for improvement and excellence. We have a really special team that rallies together to accomplish some big things. Our people have a deep sense of pride in our company and in the jobs that they do. We put an emphasis on having highly trained associates, but what is unique is that they aren’t afraid to take risks and try new things.

WGB: What do you feel best sets your stores apart in the communities they serve?

Jaskolski: We believe it is the exciting experience we provide in-store. Everything that we do points back to a good guest experience and support for our communities. The excitement of our special events and demos provide them with valuable information and the confidence they need to trust that we provide quality products for their families. The Trig’s family of associates believes in giving back to the communities in which we live and work through the many charitable events created to support causes that benefit our community members.

WGB: You discussed what you feel is most significant about being an independent above. Can you please elaborate a bit further on what you find to be the most rewarding aspect of being a regional independent grocer today?

Jaskolski: Being an independent has its advantages, especially because they can move much quicker. And it’s that kind of nimbleness that we’ve always prided ourselves on, particularly in the past two to three years. Our ability to accelerate new trends into the marketplace faster than our competition has been key with our innovation and with how we’ve positioned ourselves to win.

Another thing about independents is the ability to be extremely adaptable to their environments and to the ever-changing marketplace. Amazon has absolutely changed the whole dynamic of retail marketing, and we’re now starting to see a lot of more independents getting into e-commerce.

In order to survive and thrive in the marketplace, adaptability is the key ingredient for independents, as is working with a sense of urgency to continue to take on trends and grow the business. Those who do not will be left behind.

WGB: How are you communicating to Trig’s shoppers about the many ways your teams are working to meet and exceed their needs?

Jaskolski: Our marketing director, Kindl Furtak, and her team have really amped up our strategy, including social media, to make sure we are finding the best vehicles and channels to communicate what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

Next is the in-store experience. We make sure that our programs are well-communicated and positioned with additional signage in the stores. But the most important part of the in-store experience is educating our store associates by thoroughly briefing them on our programs and what’s most important about each of them. We have a senior leadership team meeting every week to talk about the things we’re presently working on and programs that we are moving toward. And once our guests hit our stores, our store teams are absolutely ready for them and ready to answer any questions that they have.

Kindl Furtak: We are committed to being really creative and nimble on how we can best serve our customers. We have a really great team in place that does a great job of keeping communication open and so we can all keep moving forward.

WGB: Can you give us a sense of what is resonating best with your shoppers in terms of what they are most hungry for, both literally and figuratively?

Furtak: Our customers set the bar very high for us, which is a good thing because it’s where we want to be. We find that through social media that any announcement we share sparks a lot of conversation and dialogue, and we have more and more customers engaging with us and letting us know what they like or dislike about what we’re doing. And it gives us a chance to have a two-way conversation with them to let them know why we’re doing something new or different or special. And it tends to work out really favorably. We’re seeing a bigger increase in people being vocal, and we’re paying closer attention to what they’re saying. There’s a little bit of a fearlessness with social media, where people aren’t shy about saying whatever’s on their mind. So we’re able to have a lot of dialogue with our customers that way.

Jaskolski: To Kindl’s last point, we really take to heart the feedback from our customers. And it’s fitting with the personal vision I’ve always aspired to have for the company that encourages everyone to speak openly and discuss the issues and feedback they’re hearing from guests. Our store directors own their stores and are empowered to run them like it’s their own business. And when they hear feedback from any of our guests, we all want to hear it, to make sure that we respond appropriately and take their input into account. So not only do we listen to our guests on the social media side, but also on the engagement side at the store level as well.

And if it’s something really important, my personal number is out there for our customers to contact me directly. Our company owner Trig’s [Solberg] phone number is still in the phone book—provided that somebody still uses a phone book! But we want to make ourselves accessible to everyone.

We have feedback cards that I get every week, where I get to read comments from our guests, and for the most part it’s pretty encouraging, because it’s usually acknowledging something good that somebody’s done or a program that they’ve enjoyed. So we take our guests’ feedback to heart and it’s continued to grow, I think because folks know we appreciate it and respond back to them.

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