The United Family Embraces Guests’ Evolving Shopping Patterns
United uses its e-commerce platform to connect with guests whose busy lives require something different from a brick-and-mortar grocery store.
“United is known for service – we’ve really hung our hat on that,” explains Sidney Hopper, president of The United Family chain of supermarkets in Texas and New Mexico. Many supermarkets like to make that claim about service — it’s key for any successful retailer, after all — but United backs up its service with history. The company does all it can to continue making guest service its hallmark.
“This was a family owned company for 97 years, and our roots were stores in rural west Texas locations,” Hopper says. “We are much larger now, but we’ve done a great job at continuing that small-town focus on service and understanding how important that is to someone’s experience with us. As a result, our guests are more like our family and friends.”
United operates 95 stores under the banners of United Supermarkets, Market Street, Amigos, Albertsons Market and United Express. Hopper notes this diversity in its offering allows United to meet guests’ needs at the local level and deliver what’s right for the neighborhood. Its size allows it to be nimble, but as a wholly owned subsidiary of Albertsons Companies, United can leverage that relationship to deliver value.
Additionally, the company president began his 30-year career there as one of the chain’s grocery baggers, learning the importance of service on the front lines. “I started as a sacker when I was a sophomore in high school, working into management positions before a brief departure from the grocery business.” he says. “I came back in 1986 as an assistant store manager and worked in several capacities, including regional vice president and later as COO. When the business was acquired by Albertsons in 2014, I had the opportunity to go to Houston to serve as president of Randalls Supermarkets. United Family CEO Robert Taylor was able to bring Sidney back home to United in 2018.
With so much experience in the grocery industry, Hopper understands United’s dedication to guest service remains important, but the company also has to react to guests’ evolving shopping patterns. Its challenge is to maintain the high level of service for which it is known, while also remaining competitive in today’s market.
“With traditional shopping patterns of the past, one retailer met most of a person’s or family’s needs,” he says. “Today, most guests get their needs met using five or six different avenues, with a combination of brick-and-mortar locations and online shopping. The challenge for all of us is to find out what things we can do to address how fragmented shopping is today.
“We focused on having a successful e-commerce platform, and between that and our brick-and-mortar locations, we try to stand out in a competitive market and stay above the noise to meet the needs of our guests.”
United uses its e-commerce platform to connect with guests whose busy lives require something different from a brick-and-mortar grocery store. The Albertsons Market, Market Street and United Supermarkets banners all offer online grocery shopping, where guests can shop 24 hours a day and then pick up their orders curbside or arrange to have them delivered to their homes or offices. It’s a $30 minimum for pickup or delivery orders. Same-day delivery and pick-up service is available, and guests can place orders for friends or family who live in other towns, as long as they are in the United service area.
“It’s about building a relationship,” Hopper says. “We use our technology and digital platforms to be more one-on-one in meeting guests’ needs. Technology is a huge part of people’s lives, and viewership of the weekly print ad is declining, so we have to engage with guests and provide incentives that are relevant to them. There are so many unique preferences that people have, and we want them to tell us what promotions interest them. We are developing that program now. We have a rewards program, but we think we can improve the experience by having a one-on-one connection.”
United may be investing more in its technology, but its commitment to service extends outside of the walls of its brick-and-mortar locations in other ways, as well. Regarding sustainability, United’s green initiatives involve reducing its consumption of single-use plastics, switching to energy-efficient lighting, hosting recycling opportunities in local communities and only putting fully stocked trucks on the road.
“We are really collectively focused on sustainability,” Hopper says. “This year, we have committed to look at every part of our business to keep that top of mind as we go forward. But this isn’t totally new for us. We’ve encouraged guests to bring reusable bags by giving them a five-cent credit for every one they use. We’ve been doing that for 15 years.”
United also serves its communities with the help of its UCrew and A-Team volunteers. These programs allow team member to connect with causes in the areas where they live through events such as food drives, cleaning up local highways and volunteering in schools. Since 2014, team members have donated almost 70,000 hours of service to local charities. CEO Robert Taylor says community leadership is an expectation and responsibility of store leadership. “The grocery store is the gathering place for many of our communities. We want our team members to be involved in the community, lending their skills to help make their community better,” Taylor said.
“People want to work for a company that invests in them personally and invests in the community,” Hopper says. “The stores work around team members’ schedules to do this, and leadership participates, too.
“One thing that has really helped us sustain our culture is that we have a lot of tenure in our company, from CEO Robert Taylor to the front line” he notes. “This continuity is important because these are the people taking care of our guests.”