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Deal's meat deals slice up the competition.

Deal's Park Hill Grocery is the only independent supermarket in Spartanburg, S.C., but it has plenty of competitive neighbors--Winn-Dixie, Bi-Lo, Food Lion, Ingles and A&P. Unruffled by big names and chain clout, Deal's has prospered in the midst of this retailing turmoil by emphasizing the attributes that characterize so many independent success stories: management flexibility, friendliness, fairness, service and smart merchandising.

"We thrive on competition," says Owner James Deal. "Every new store brings more people into the area... that can mean more business for us!"

But Deal's does its share of attracting shoppers to this section of Spartanburg, too. Some drive from as far away as North Carolina, often traveling 60 miles round trip, to shop at Deal's. On the heavily shopped end-of-week days, aisles in the 10,500-square-foot store are jammed. Cars line up waiting for a parking place in the lot that accommodates approximately 120 vehicles. On weekends, an attendant is needed to direct traffic and to assist in parking cars.

What attracts the crowds? With four members of the Deal Family working in the store and helping shoppers, there's a definite "down-home" atmosphere in which smiles come easily and customers are treated like longtime friends. Prices are competitive (in the meat department, national-branded products are priced 60 cents to 70 cents below the same items at local chains). The store offers a department lineup (except for a deli/bakery) and a variety of products that compare favorably to other area supermarkets.

But for many of Deal's customers, meat is the main attraction. That's no surprise to Deal, he planned it that way. He acquired his expertise and love for meats while serving an apprenticeship in his father's Spartanburg meat store in the 1940s. Upon opening his own supermarket, it just seemed logical to spotlight the department that he knew the most about.

And it has paid off: Meats now contribute 60% to Deal's total store sales. Deal attributes much of his success to an emphasis on quality, personalized service, value and an absolute guarantee of satisfaction on everything purchased. "In our 15 years in this location we've only had three complaints, says Deal, "and in one of those, we gave a lady an entire side of beef to make up for her disappointment. We're backed up to the hilt by our meat suppliers on this guarantee."

Deal's features only prime grade meats, paying an extra 1-3/4 cents per pound for a special technique used at the packing plant to assure the selection of the best meats. All meat is purchased direct from meat suppliers with the store receiving three truck deliveries each week.

The high standards of quality extend to the department's production of ground beef, too. Only one grade is offered but there are few if any complaints from customers about the lack of selection. As Deal explains it. "We grind our beef from fresh cuts frozen meats are ever used. And it's 85% to 90% lean." The everyday price is $1.29, but ground beef is frequently featured in store ads for 99 cents. When on sale, the movement is so brisk that to keep up with the demand, a 10-pound limit per customer is imposed. However, Deal says, shoppers have developed ways of circumventing the restriction. For example, husbands and wives shop separately, or customers check out and then return immediately to shop again. However, Deal doesn't have any resentment about these actions. He's happy his customers find the product worth all of that extra effort. In addition to regular shoppers, the store is the source of supply for 10 restaurants. On average, 12,000 pounds of ground beef are sold each week.

The people who flock to Deal's are as interesting demographically as they are numerically. About 50% of total customers are from lower-income minority groups. The other half is in the middle-income and upper-income brackets. With such a diverse clientele, Deal says, "I can sell everything from the tail to the moo!".

And he backs that up by merchandising virtually the entire animal carcass in his newspaper ads--the only media he uses on a regular basis. Three fractional ads are run on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and a full-page ad is run in Thursday's best-food-day edition of the Spartanburg newspaper. Deal's ad strategy is to feature products that appeal to specific demographic groups during the time when they are most capable of making a purchase. During the first two weeks of the month, when assistance checks and food stamps are being distributed, the headlined specials are items like fatback, chitterlings, chicken and lower-priced fish, all of which attract lower-income customers. Ads appearing in the last two weeks feature the more expensive cuts of beef--roasts and steaks.

Ad pricing reflects Deal's belief in giving the customer the best value possible. Undaunted by surrounding chain competition, Deal's ads offer specials on national brand packaged meats that are often 60 cents to 70 cents cheaper than chain prices. "We try to select items to advertise that are not being used by all the chains," says Deal. "In our special pricing on packaged meats, we still try to make an average of about 12 cents-a-unit profit."

This merchandising technique has resulted in a meat department that sells quantities of everything from offals to the fanciest meats. A typical week's sales movement will include: 3,500 pounds of pork, 8,000 pounds of chicken, 45 sides of beef, 1,800 pounds of fatback, 4,000 pounds of seafood, and 1,800 pounds of bologna. For one promotion, the store ordered two truckloads of chitterlings--that's 1,200 60-pound cases--and moved it out! Veal and lamb are also featured during seasons when they sell best. Deal says that because of heavy price cutting on turkeys by the chains, he handles them only to satisfy customer needs during the holidays but does not promote them.

To handle the rush of weekend customers, as many as 10 employees man the store's 68 feet of service cases featuring red meats, offals, bulk luncheon meats, pork products, poultry and fresh seafood. Thirty-two feet of self-service cases display pegboard luncheon meats, wieners, bacon, canned hams, sausage and such local favorites as cracklins, cured skins, and cured pork bellies. Suspended over the work area are lines of Southern-style sugar cured hams. Deal says these are especially popular with tourists visiting South Carolina.

The store buys only full sides of beef, breaking them down in a back cutting room. "We believe that we save money by cutting it ourselves," says Deal. "That way we're not paying for all of that high union labor at the meat packer." Deal's is non-union but is not reluctant about giving its employees the same advantages as area union shops offer. Son Jimmy Deal, who is in charge of all packaged meats, says, "I took courses in college about union negotiations and contracts. So, I shop around and find out what's being offered whenever new contracts are signed. We try to be fair with our employees." The Deals report that they regard their employees as "family" and many of the employees appear to feel the same way about the Deals. This may help explain the low turnover rate among meat personnel and the fact that the average length of employment is seven years. Some employees have been with Deal's for 16 years.

Their dedication to doing a good job is reflected in the employee-customer conversations during transactions at the Deal's meat counter. There's no perfunctory attitude displayed here by meat department personnel. The employees are apparently well-informed about such things as the best ways to prepare meat, about various cuts of meat, and about how many servings can be expected from a cut of meat. Their comments and answers on meat fall as naturally into the across-the-counter conversation as the friendly greeting given every customer approaching the counter, and the "thank you" that concludes each transaction. A little eavesdropping reveals a lot about why Deal's is doing so well in this Spartanburg hotbed of competitive grocery retailing.

To give his customer the best in service and to stay competitive in a highly competitive area, Deal is a strong believer in remodelings to update the layout and equipment of the store. "We've remodeled six times in the past 15 years," reports Deal. "In meats, we've remodeled twice in the past six months!"

In the latest meat department change, a former stock room was eliminated to make room for a 12-foot fresh seafood department and a 12-foot fresh poultry section. "With so many people interested in diets nowadays, we thought that both poultry and fish needed more space," Deal says. Before the remodeling, seafood was limited to five varieties of fish. Now that number has been doubled to include catfish, pan trout, crocher (a big seller with local minorities), mullet, whiting, perch, flounder, shrimp, and oysters. The extra room for poultry has permitted an expansion in the variety of turkey parts and in the amount of display space available for fresh chicken. Both cases use beds of crushed ice for the display of product. The expansion in seafood and poultry and the installation of new service meat cases in the past six months have increased meat sales by 25%, according to Deal.

Even with the expanded facilities designed to handle more shoppers more efficiently, there are some who just don't have time to wait. For them, Deal's has provided a phone service with called-in orders wrapped and ready-to-go upon the customer's arrival.

James Deal is successful and happy with his business, but he continues to look for ways to improve. Currently he is negotiating for adjacent land that would permit him to double the size of his parking space and to dramatically reposition an enlarged supermarket so that it faces a nearby, heavily trafficked street. And, with that expansion, you can bet that there'll be some new surprises in the meat department for Deal's customers...and for its competitors.
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Title Annotation:Spartanburg, South Carolina
Author:Dyer, Lee W.
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Date:Dec 1, 1984
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