With his family opening its first grocery store in 1955, the head of Powell’s Supermarkets says he’s been working in the business since he was a toddler. “I did everything you do in a supermarket,” says Dave Powell, now the president and CEO of the Powell Group of Companies in Newfoundland. “I stocked shelves, acted as a bag boy, received trucks, culled produce, cut meat, anything that needed to be done.”
Today, the store his father, Herbert, started in Bay Roberts has grown to include two other locations in Carbonear and Harbour Grace, as well as a thriving wholesale food distribution operation.
Here, Powell shares some of the principles that have contributed to his enterprise’s success over the past six decades, as well as some personal insights into what powers his passion for the business.
Q: What do you love about the grocery business?
A: Every day is different. There is a new set of challenges and new opportunities, new people. It’s just a continually changing environment.
Q: You’ve commented before that even with independents’ success, sometimes these grocers can be too independent. What would you like to see in terms of collaboration?
A: I think independents as a total would benefit immensely from if we were a little bit more open and shared a little bit more freely, number one, our knowledge and experiences—such as merchandizing ideas and supply agreements and costings.
Q: Your two sons now work for the company. Have they brought new ideas to the table?
A: Oh, yes. You know, three heads are better than one. We get together and talk and hash out many things. Adam, as an example, he’s a young guy who’s more in tune with social networking and tweeting and Facebook and so on, so he’s helped develop those programs where I hadn’t. And my son in the transportation role, David, spends much more time than I ever could researching pieces of equipment and hopefully buying and making better deals than I could.
Q: What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
A: The best piece of advice I’ve received was from my father, who grew up in the Depression years and got a Grade 3 education, so he was not very book smart, but very street smart. He once told me that in business, you continually have to march ahead—never stop, because if you do stop, the guy coming up behind you is going to trample you. So in other words, continue to grow; continue to look for new opportunities and new ideas, because once you stop doing that, you’re dead meat.
Q: You offer traditional Newfoundland delicacies in your restaurants and stores. What are your favourites?
A: One of my absolute favourite local foods is jig’s dinner, which is salted beef that has been soaked in water to remove some of the brine and then boiled for several hours. And near the end of the boiling process vegetables are added—so potatoes, carrots, turnip, cabbage, parsnip—and sometimes pease pudding is made, which is split peas tied in a bag and inserted into water and boiled. So that’s a very, very tasty traditional Newfoundland meal.
Q: If you hadn’t gone into the grocery industry, what do you think you would have done?
A: I can’t imagine doing anything other than what I’ve done. I had a keen interest in chemistry in high school, so I would probably have been involved in the pharmaceutical industry or petrochemical industry. But I’m quite happy with where life brought me.
© 2019 Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers