Talking Shop with Dennis Marchi Schnucks, 19 S. Kingshighway, Cape Girardeau
Monday, January 19, 2009
The Schnucks store has been a staple of the Cape Girardeau community for 32 years, offering everything from groceries to a pharmacy, bakery, deli and seafood. Business reporter Brian Blackwell recently sat down with Schnuck[']s manager Dennis Marchi to discuss his personal life, his start in the business and what trends he sees.
Marchi has lived in Southeast Missouri with his wife, Kathy, for 25 years. The couple has been married for 35 years and has two children, Chris and Todd, and two grandchildren. In his free time Marchi can be found working on home projects such as cabinetry. He serves as chairman of the Saint Francis Medical Center board of trustees. Other community involvement includes the Salvation Army and Southeast Missouri State University Foundation. Past involvements include the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce and Cape Girardeau Area Magnet boards.
Q: How did you get your start in the grocery business?
A: I started as a bagger at a St. Louis store in 1967. Three years later I left to go work for Schnucks. Since then I've worked in every department — groceries, frozen food, bakery. I eventually was promoted up to assistant grocery manager and then grocery manager at the store there. The manager in Cape Girardeau was transferring to St. Louis in January 1985 and they needed someone to fill in. I went for a three-year tour-of-duty. I've turned down three promotions to stay here. Cape Girardeau is our home.
We love this area. It's a great place to raise a family and the quality of life is excellent. In St. Louis I would have been involved in only one thing more than likely. But I've had so many more opportunities here. Time has flown by so fast because of all the activities and organizations I've been involved with.
Q: What makes your job so rewarding that you'd stick with it for so many years?
A: I've been with the company 39 years and have done pretty much everything in the company. The Schnucks family has been wonderful to work for. They allowed me to get my degrees in school and still work for them in the meantime.
Q: Being in a business for nearly four decades has allowed you to witness a change or two. What are the most significant changes you've noticed since you began working for the company?
A: The biggest change has been the cash register. In the 1960s cashiers used a crank on the side of the drawer to bring up the totals of sales for the day. Now it's all scanned, and that's made productivity faster. It also makes things more orderly and easier to keep track of inventory because everything is computerized. The system upgrades itself every 10 minutes. At 10 p.m. every day we're able to pull all of the product and sales information for recovery at 6 a.m.
Another change is the expansion of departments. When I started at this store we had a bakery, meat shop in the center of the store and a limited produce department that offered a small section of lettuce, potatoes, apples and a few other items.
Q: Anyone who shops will notice that food prices keep increasing. What is the reason for this?
A: A lot of that has to do with inflation. We have had issues where the transportation costs were more than what the product cost. A lot of that we ate because we didn't want to pass that on to the consumer. We knew fewer people would buy the products if we marked them way up. Corn also has played a part in the increase. A lot of companies bought commodities when they were much higher, at their peak. We'll see how that plays out.
Q: During the holiday season people traditionally go all out and buy food for elaborate meals for their gatherings. However, from the feedback I've gotten from readers, it seems like people bought much less this year because of the economic conditions. Do you agree?
A: Last Thanksgiving people bought the basics: turkey, green beans, sweet potatoes and salad. That's about it. They used to buy all kinds of other fixings. So habits have changed from a lot to just the basics. I think that pattern will continue until we get out of the economic downturn or until people feel comfortable enough to begin spending more.
Q: From grocery store managers and employees I've known, I've come away with the understanding that it's difficult to turn a profit in the business. Would you agree?
A: The industry average on profit is one-half of one percent on each food item. For every dollar spent we hope to make half a penny. So the profit margins are very low. We try to turn a profit through saving in other areas such as turning lights out in areas at times when we don't need them and monitoring our heating system. Heating and lighting are both devastating.
Q: What are your biggest-selling items?
A: Basically the same items have sold well over a long extended period of time. In the produce department it's been bananas. In bakery it's been bread. In the meat department it's been ground beef and chicken. And in the dairy department it's been milk.