Harps Food Stores Pursues Continued Expansion

by George Waldon  on Monday, May. 21, 2012 12:00 am  

Harp's Food Stores President Kim Eskew, left, and CEO Roger Collins stand in front of a store in Springdale. (Photo by Brooke McNeely Galligan)

Harps Food Stores Inc. of Springdale has deployed a mixed strategy of growth through acquisition and construction since the financial markets imploded in 2008.

(Click here for a list of the largest private companies in northwest Arkansas.)

But the emphasis of late has shifted to developing its own stores, especially its prototypical 32,000-SF model that includes gasoline sales and sizable space commitments to pharmacy merchandise and deli-bakery goods.

"We believe we will have a double-digit growth rate in sales," said Roger Collins, chairman and CEO. "We hope to put in five new stores every year. We believe we can do that.

"The stores we're putting in are doing a greater volume than our average store. The new format we're using has just been real successful."

Revenue reached $550 million in 2011, a one-year increase of 6.4 percent.

Employment at the company has grown by nearly 50 percent, from 2,245 in 2001 to about 3,350 today.

With six stores opening this year, sales and employment should post healthy gains heading into 2013.

"We have several other places we're looking at," Collins said. "We think this is a good time to expand."

He said the company launched the expansion program after years of enduring market share erosion, chiefly from Wal-Mart's efforts.

"From 1992 to the early 2000s, Wal-Mart went to town to grow its grocery business," Collins said. "We were just sitting back taking these hits when they would open a new store, a Supercenter or Neighborhood Market. We couldn't continue to do that, and we needed to keep growing."

Operating in expansion mode has created advancement opportunities for staffers and helped boost the value of the company's internal stock.

The company became 100 percent employee-owned after buying out the Harp family and management in 2001. Since then, the per-share value in the employee stock ownership plan has appreciated from $27 to $227, with all employees receiving annual stock allocations.

"The bottom line: They are the owners," Collins said. "The managers aren't getting anything else the cashiers and stockers aren't getting. Everyone is sharing in the success of the company."

To qualify for the ESOP, an employee must have worked for Harps for 12 consecutive months, be 21 or older and have worked at least 1,000 hours.

Collins started with Harps in 1986 as the vice president of finance.

He was promoted to executive vice president in 1995 when the company bought out the interest of long-time President Don Harp, who owned more than half of the grocery chain.

Collins was named president and CEO in 2000, and Kim Eskew, chief operating officer, took on the role of president in 2008.

They are part of a six-member executive committee that leads Harps.

Other executive committee members are Jim Antz, chief financial officer and vice president of finance and administration; Frank Ray, vice president of human resources; J. Max Van Hoose, vice president of store planning; and Mike Thurow, vice president of store systems.

"We're 100 percent employee-owned, and people are excited about the company," Collins said.

"If you can get people engaged and thinking about what they can do to make the company better, you can have a competitive advantage. That's a big deal."



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