Van Meter credits his experienced team of associates for the continued growth of the store in Riverbend Center, 1476 Turner McCall Blvd.
The formal ribbon-cutting for a 23,000-square-foot addition — taking the store to 89,800 square feet — on Feb. 20 marked the third ribbon-cutting ceremony for Van Meter at the Riverbend shopping center location. He presided over the original grand opening in 2003, then the first expansion and has now taken the Rome store to about as big as that particular location can accommodate.
Kroger does have a slightly larger footprint available for its stores. A new 120,000-square-foot Kroger Marketplace concept store is being built around an existing grocery in the Carrollton market.
The Riverbend store has more than 240 associates who together have close to 1,500 years of experience with Kroger. A little quick math indicates Kroger associates in Rome have been with the company for an average of six years.
Van Meter started with Kroger in July 1977, as a cashier. He worked his way through the ranks and served as an assistant manager at different locations before getting his initial appointment as a store manager in 1992.
“Kroger is such a leader in the retail grocery industry because of its structure, planning, organization and leadership that starts from the very top,” Van Meter said. “It starts with Dave Dillon, who is the CEO.”
The leadership team at the Rome store is a key reason for its success, according to Van Meter.
Assistant Manager Jessica Curry has been with the company 27 years. Years of service for other assistant managers are 14 for Dan Vaughn, eight each for James Cox and Donald McDaniel, and one for Michael Burkett. Pharmacy Manager Melody Loyd has been with Kroger for 10 years, and chef Travis Summerlot has been with Kroger for five years
Joann Stanley, the floral manager at the Rome store, has been with Kroger for 38 years. Tim Pence, the lead receiving clerk, has been with the grocer for 35 years.
Marty Hall, the meat manager, has been with Kroger 32 years; deli manager Debbie Seifert has been a Kroger employee for 28 years. Grocery manager Allen Roper and James West, the frozen food lead clerk, have each been with the company 23 years.
“We always talk about clean, full, fresh and friendly,” Van Meter said. “These are friendly, knowledgeable and attentive associates.”
Van Meter said Kroger is very proactive when it comes to making its associates feel valued. It’s called the inclusion process.
“That is really as much, if not more important than how much they make — being appreciated for the job they do,” Van Meter said. “Kroger works very hard to recognize their associates daily.”
The numbers associated with the renovated store are almost overwhelming.
There are 58,154 different items stocked, and more than 1,500 wines are available. The pharmacy section offers 25,000 different types of drugs or general medications; there are more than 1,600 meat and seafood items, more than 800 types of fresh produce, more than 150 items available in the floral department, and the nutrition section features more than 2,600 items.
“It’s just amazing what’s available out there for our customers now,” Van Meter said. “Our variety has grown so much.”
Van Meter said the nutrition section is the fastest-growing section of the store.
“People are more health-conscious now,” Van Meter said. “They’re trying to live a healthier lifestyle than they were 25 years ago. There are so many people out there now with allergies and restrictions on their diets, and the nutrition department is geared toward those customers.”
“Change is such an important part of Kroger’s strategy,” he continued. “You look at some of the competitors who aren’t around anymore because they did things the same way forever and ever. They never changed with the customers.”
The Rome store manager said Kroger stays in tune with its customers.
“They do a lot of research into customer buying patterns,” Van Meter said.
“They solicit a lot of feedback from the customers, and the customers tell us what they want and what they expect.”
The Murray cheese shop is one of the most outstanding additions to the store, according to Van Meter. “It is a tremendous point of difference for us because it is exclusive to Kroger,” Van Meter said. “Our Chef on the Run program is another tremendous point of difference as well.”
During the grand opening ceremonies, Rome Mayor Evie McNiece made reference to an $8 million investment by Kroger in the expansion.
Company officials typically don’t provide financial details themselves.