Key Food COO discusses firm’s growth with Fordham students

George Knobloch, COO of Key Food, talks to Fordham students on Monday, Oct. 5, 2015.

George Knobloch, COO of Key Food, talks to Fordham students on Monday, Oct. 5, 2015.

The New York City supermarket landscape is dominated largely by independently-owned stores.

So how does Key Food, a more than 75-year-old company, manage to survive and thrive in this environment?

By focusing on quality products and customer, among other things, said George Knobloch, the COO of Key Food. Knobloch and two other Key Food executives visited Fordham University on Oct. 5 to discuss the company and its efforts to grow in the region.

Part of that effort is knowing Key Food’s place in the supermarket area and capitalizing on that. The firm’s heaviest concentration of stores, which are all member owned and privately held, is in Brooklyn and Queens, with some in the Bronx and in areas surrounding the city – Long Island, New Jersey, New York State and Pennsylvania.

“We are primarily a five-borough-based retailer,” Knobloch said. “We like competing in the urban market, not the suburbs.”

The strategy has paid off. Inside of six years, the company, which currently has sales in excess of $2 billion, will have more than doubled its store count, from a little more than 100 to about 230, Knobloch said, and it is the fastest-growing supermarket in the Northeast by percentage.

The Key Food visit was arranged by Timothy Malefyt, who teaches marketing at Fordham. One of Malefyt’s classes is working on a project with the company.

An aggressive, targeted marketing campaign has also helped the company grow. Michele Gissi, Key Food’s interactive marketing and public relations manager, told students that building brand equity is an important part of the company’s strategy. That cannot be done strictly through an advertising campaign, she said, because brand equity is based on emotion and positive experiences with things such as clean stores and courteous staff.

“We have to really work hard to try to change people’s opinions or to convert them and get them to be brand advocates,” she said of this “intang. “Once you have that, that’s completely valuable.”

Comprehensive campaigns, brand familiarity and promotions are all part of the action plan, Gissi said, but the bottom line is that your brand equity is only as good as your store.

Attention to that type of detail, Knobloch and Gissi both said, is key to the company’s continued growth.

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