The Magic Of Stew Leonard’s Dairy Comes To Long Island
While much has changed in food retail since Stew Leonard’s Dairy first opened its doors in Norwalk, Connecticut in 1969, there are some things that hadn’t changed when they recently opened their doors to their fifth store in Farmingdale, New York on January 19th. When I caught up with Stew Leonard, Jr., the President and CEO of the family business, he was engaged in an active debate on where to place the 2 Rules three ton “rock” that is prominently featured at the front of every store. For anyone not familiar with Stew Leonard’s, the rock carries a very simple message stating the company’s policy:
- Rule 1: The Customer is Always Right
- Rule 2: If The Customer is Ever Wrong, Reread Rule 1
While the operating philosophy remains the same, I was also very curious about what will change as the new 60,000 square foot store opens, the first new store in eight years for the company. The three major changes can be summarized as follows:
- More Show and Tell. As Stew describes it, “we are trying to remove as many barriers as possible between the customer and the product”. This means details large and small, like moving the bagel oven to a position of prominence and eliminating much of the glass that used to separate prep areas in meat and seafood. The “tell” portion of the store is filled with great stories and displays about the products, the suppliers and their origins. Stew Leonard was “local” before it became a buzzword.
- Expanded Foodservice. “Customers are looking to spend less time in the kitchen and we’re filling that need through more pre-sliced, pre-prepped and prepared foods”, according to Stew Leonard, Jr.. The new store will feature a wok, a Mongolian BBQ and a pizza oven in addition to the huge range of hot foods tables that are typically found in a store. There is a kitchen doing complete prep work to ensure freshness of the product
- More Efficiencies. At 60,000 sq. ft. , the store is large by supermarket standards but considerably smaller than some of the earlier versions. Yet, it will have the same selling area with a reduction in backrooms. More efficiency and more focus on selling space versus production.
Still, the store will have the fun elements that customers have come to expect from Stew Leonard’s Dairy, from animatronic dancing farm animals to a new feature, a dancing “guacamole girl”. Stew Leonard’s Dairy has been a personal favorite store of mine for over 20 years since the first visit to Norwalk and later at newer stores in Danbury and Yonkers, NY. From the petting zoo outside the store to the cow that goes moo when you press the big red button, it has managed to be a delight for kids and a destination for parents without ever sacrificing quality. Remarkably, Stew Leonard’s carries just over 2,000 SKU’s, which means that it needs to be ruthless in product selection and making sacrifices about what it will and will not be. As Stew himself says, “Even I can’t do my full grocery shop here”. Despite the limited number of SKU’s, particularly on the dry grocery side, the store still manages to convey large assortments despite carrying only about 5% of the SKU’s of a similar sized grocery store.
There is a little bit of magic in every Stew Leonard’s, a combination of great products, great people and just a little bit of craziness. In an era when people are looking for ways to avoid the store altogether, Stew Leonard’s Dairy takes the opposite approach—a retail wonderland you can’t wait to shop!