THE ART OF THE DEAL, PLUS

– From Monty Python’s “Life of Brian.”

Harry the Haggler: Haggle properly. This isn’t worth nineteen.
Brian: Well, you just said it was worth twenty.
Harry the Haggler: Ohh, dear. Ohh, dear. Come on. Haggle.
Brian: Huh. All right. I’ll give you ten.
Harry the Haggler: That’s more like it. Ten?!  Are you trying to insult me?!  Me, with a poor dying grandmother?!  Ten?!

I don’t buy it.

Well ultimately I do, of course, but there’s a guy, our Head Buyer, whom I trust to get the right goods in our stores, and at the right price to you.

He’s Larry Krispin, and we go way back. Hell I was still a teenager, and so was Larry, when he started to work at our store on 10 Mile and Greenfield. He’s family.

The Detroit native and Mackenzie High School grad began his grocery career at Wrigley’s as a bagger, as a matter of fact, pulling 65 cents a hour.

“When I turned 18 I got to be a stock boy, making $1.05 an hour,” he said with a chuckle. “I thought I was in heaven.”

He managed to save a chunk of that after-school moola and made his first significant buy, a growling ’58 Chevy in perfect condition. Black. The stuff of dreams, he said.

Then more life happened. He got married, had a kid, and mulled joining the Marines. But he didn’t want to leave his family. That’s when he heard of an opening at Hiller’s. Allow him to tell it:

“I went over there and said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ They hired me that day, stock boy, night crew. I was making more money than I had been, and I didn’t have to enlist.”

When he was bumped up to Assistant Manager, well that did it. Wasn’t long before he became manager, then manager of another store. And now he’s Head Buyer and Senior Supervisor for our seven stores, purchasing 30,000 different items from 1,000 different companies. That’s a load but Larry loves it. He handles all the basic groceries, from canned goods to pet supplies to juices and snacks. Did you know that we carry 170 varieties of olive oil and 300 kinds of salad dressings? Larry keeps track of it all.

Naturally, he watches for trends. Like he knows that sardines, because of their well-known (and well publicized) health benefits, have been sailing from shelves. (By the way, Hiller’s offers 100 kinds of those; a top competitor, 10). And Larry spends hours every day scanning our cost of products. He’s a very frugal man who wants to lower every price he can.

“In the mornings I go to stores and get with managers, and see what’s selling,” he said. “We sometimes order from wholesalers three months in advance, so we try to hit it just right.”

Indeed, Larry also writes our ads. Say he does a special buy, a hot deal for paper towels or something (Bounty in our stores is in big demand). Larry will handle the verbiage and we have someone do the art work. Then it comes back to Larry for proofing. Same routine for the special items, since we carry a lot of products that other stores don’t. How did the ads do? Well, Larry also helps track item movement and profitability.

To some of you, this is Groceries 101. But to Larry, after 45 years, it’s a passion. It’s what he knows, and does exceedingly well.

“Every single day — and they begin at 8, and rarely end before 7 — I enjoy  talking it up with vendors and manufacturers. But what I really love is talking to the customers, getting to the stores and seeing what people are buying.”

Even to the point of helping to bag, which he does when he can. A common touch that we like to foster. Not that Larry needs nudging. After all, that’s how he started out.

“I always try to put myself in a position where I’m a consumer. And I want to get them what they want, get them the best, and at the best price for them and the company.”

And yet he still dreams of his Chevy.


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