Sue Admas (left) with Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.
Sue Adams is proof that grocers can be trailblazers in their communities even after 25 years in business.
Adams, owner of the Whistler Grocery Store, is one of three people in Whistler, B.C., to receive the prestigious Freedom of the Municipality award this year (and one of only 11 to be named the honour in 40 years). She is recognized for being a key influence in the growth and development of the Whistler resort. “This award was an absolute surprise and I was very humbled,” says the 70-year-old who moved to the area with her husband Bob in 1998 to take over a grocery store in the heart of the pedestrian village.
Today the Whistler Grocery Store is thriving and Adams shows no signs of slowing down.
In addition to operating a successful business, Adams is active in numerous organizations. She is a member of the Alliance for Cultural Tourism and sits on the board of directors of the Chamber of Commerce and the Whistler Arts Council, among others. She started a women’s network in Whistler 25 years ago that’s still running strong, and sits on a provincial roundtable geared to small business. “Being involved is a great way to advocate for my community and for small businesses in the area,” she says.
A former occupational therapist, Adams says it was “in my DNA” to become an entrepreneur. She ran several B.C.-based restaurants and catering companies before settling in Whistler. “The transition to grocery was easy too because I was already dealing with people every day,” she adds.
With some 2.7 million international visitors coming to Whistler every year, Adams says she and Bob are always innovating to meet customers’ needs. They were among the first in Canada to offer online shopping and have established a reputation for offering high-quality prepared foods. “We do 20 different sandwiches and 10 different salads every day,” she says. “Lots of locals [as well as tourists] come in to shop for lunch and snacks as well.”
Passionate about food herself, Adams believes staying on top of trends is the secret to success. “You have to look outside your business to really understand your customers,” she says, noting that Whistler Grocery shoppers are surveyed twice a year using an outside agency. “We make sure we’re on trend with what they want; we know they’re looking for an international experience as well as something unique to Whistler.”
Adam says she and her husband also put significant effort into building a positive work culture among their 60 employees. “We’re known in town as a great place to work and we’re always protecting that as part of our brand,” she says.
When she’s not at the store or exploring culinary cuisines around the world in the name of research, Adams continues to work on various community initiatives. Her latest focus is an art museum that will be opening in Whistler in 2016. “It will be a game changer for the resort, which is already a leader in outdoor activities and will now be a huge draw for arts and culture as well,” she says.
© 2019 Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers