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The fine art of pampering.

Albert Jamail will ring up about $24 million in sales this year without spending a dime on advertising, promoting one special or slashing a single price. Nor will he, by his own admission, step inside a rival store. He never has.

Jamail, owner, president and current patriarch of Jim Jamail & Sons of Houston, is making a bundle by bucking all the tends of retailing.

His prosperity is fostered by a simple, but rarely followed philosophy: impecable service, superior merchandise and inimitable style. Price, as a means to stimulate sales, is to this merchant an unnecessary evil. "We've always had a reputation for being high-price," admits Jamail, "and it's never kept our customers from coming back. I guess you could call us a tradition."

You can also call it goldmine. In the year just ended, sales from the one-store operation (excluding institutional sales) were a shade under $19 million. With only 18,000 of a total 40,000 square feet devoted to selling, the weekly sales per square foot averages out at roughly $20, or more than triple the industry standard. And while expenses such as transporting fruit from halfway around the world and a payroll that runs 14% of sales are relatively stiff, they become almost incidental when your gross margin averages 28%. In a business where fractions of a percent can turn rags into riches, Jamail's edge over the competition is strikingly obvious.

The only thing obvious to Najeeb Jamail when he first set foot in Houston after emigrating from Lebanon in 1905 was his lack of a job. But with the help of relatives he was able to open a small produce stand and eek out a modest living. As his reputation grew, so did the business and by 1917 Jamail began leasing produce counters in several grocery stores. It it's first-rate you want, so the word spread, go first to Najeeb. It wasn't until 1946, when his sons Joe, Harry and albert were ready to join the business, that the elder Jamail -- by then known as Jim -- opened his own full - line grocery store.

It took little time for Jamail to distinguish himself as the city's preeminent purveyor of top-notch merchandise and hands-on service. Finally, Houston's upper class had ameans of satisfying its seemingly insatiable taste for unusual--and expensive--specialties. Nine years and three enlargements later, the same city that had embraced him broke the news that it was planning to build a freeway through this front door. Such was the price of progress.

But Jamail was not about to watch a half-century of sweat turn into sawdust. That same day, the family began searching for a new site--and a landowner willing to accept their reputation as collateral until they collected from the city. They found both. The 16,000-square-foot Jim Jamail & Sons supermarket opened its doors smack in the heart of downtown Houston just as the padlock was being placed on the old store.

It's been all uphill since. Situated on the same site, Jamail's has since expanded to two and half times its original size. By next month, work should be completed on a 15,000-square-foot addition, raising the total to 55,000 square feet. And further enlargement may be in the cards if a deal can be worked out on an adjacent parcel of land. Meanwhile, albert Jamail talks matter-of-factly about a 30% sales increase this year, a gutsy predictio at a time when food price inflation is barely percetible.

Jim Jamail & Sons isn't unique at what it does; there are others who successfully cater to the carriage trade. But few, if any, accomplish this without relying on some measure of competitive pricing. After all, the upper class didn't get that way be throwing money away. So, what makes Jamail's unique?

Grab a cart, turn on your calculator and see for yourself. For starters, walk over to the appetizer/catering counter and peer through the steamed glass at the amplitude of hot dishes prepared earlier that morning under the direction of the store's Swiss-trained chef, Rolf Meitler. If you're lucky, Saltimbocca Florentine is part of Today's menu. Note: Weekly sales in this section (including sales of cheese) run close to $44,000.

Saunter over to the meat counter, park your cart and make yourself comfortable one of the softly cushioned stools. Ask any one of the 21 butchers for a thick cut of Chateaubriand. And while there, you may as well pick up a squab. Or a quail. Note: Sales here average $77,000 a week.

Head toward the aisles. Select among the 110 types of mustard, 200 varieties of preserves and 80 assortments of vinegar. Note the $3 can of green beans adjacent to its 55-cent counterpart. If you are having difficulty locating a particular item, tell an employee and he or she will walk you over to it. At Jamail's, no one points. Note: Grocery sales reach approximately $164,000 a week (including frozens and HBA).

Don't be misled at your next stop. Although it is neither big nor fancy, what the produce department lacks in stylle it makes up for in substance. Like succulent strawberries from New Zealand, fresh mushrooms from Pennsylvania and hearty asparagus from France and New Mexico. And if it seems crowded here, don't get impatient. Five employees constantly rotate the racks and just as many wait on customers. Note: In return for being pampered, shoppers spend over $80,000 a week on produce, or 22% of their tab.

Good food, of course, deserves good wine and this store carries more than 400 varieties. Don't worry if you're the discriminating type: Stacked alongside the popular-priced wines are premium brands such as Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. Final note: Wine sales are part of grocery, so there's no breakout for this category. Besides, you've already spent $55.20 and stil qualify for the express checkout.

Before you start labeling this place "rip-off city," let's put its pricing structure in perspective. Jamail's tremendous volume allows the family to buy many fancy foods directly from the manufacturer at competitive prices that are reflected on the shelves. If their coffers are healthier than your run-of-the-mill supermarket, iths because the representation of these specialty items is more than token. Rather, they account for a great majority of the store's 20,000 items.

You can eliminate middleman costs for the most part too. Jamailhs relies on its main supplier, Grocers Supply Co. of Houston, for only 30% of grocery and refrigerated items. Surplus inventory is stocked in the 22,000-square-foot warehousing section, including giant refrigerators for perishables. And when it comes to shelf-stockin, vendors have little to say since 95% of all merchandise is dropped at the back door. "We control space allocation," says Jamail. "I don't want vendors pushing away competitive items to make room for their own brands."

That's no idle threat. Each morning, three hours before the store opens, Jamail can be found overseeing the restocking or talking shop with any of his 150 employees. In fact, he spends 90% of his day on the floor, which he only half-jokingly refers to as his office. White collar and all, this is one executive who can pinpoint an item before you can say escargot.

While Albert Jamail has been calling all the shots since his brothers decided to step down from the business, Jamail's remains a family operation. Three of Joe's sons are active; Jimmy handles institutional produce; Larry is grocery buyer and Robert is produce manager. Albert's daughter, Eileen Harrington, specializes in new itmes and diet foods as grocery manager, while finding time to thire and train front-end checkers. And Alberths sister, Marion Averyt, is office manager.

Clearly, Jamail's is a classic story of a small store that catches on big, and prospers in the process. But not too big. When asked why he hasn't parlayed his operation into a network of stores, Albert says: "Running one Jamail's is complicated enough. This type of operation requires disciplined execution. We can't slack off for a minute."
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Title Annotation:Houston upscale supermarket
Author:Schaeffer, Larry
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Article Type:Biography
Date:Feb 1, 1984
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