Food City responds to great rebate debate; vows to help seniors in Fairfield Glade continue to save at the pump
By BILL PIECUCH
For The Vista
When I grocery shop, I shop. I enter the store with quick steps and buzz around the place seldom noticing or even paying attention to sales promotion, advertising and the like.
I shop at Food City for two reasons: First, convenience. Nice people and no other game in town. But secondly, the gasoline rebate helps, uh, FUEL my buzz.
Of course the discount helps. But the real joy isn’t a contented smile but rather a quiet smirk knowing 15 cents off a gallon helps my overall attitude — even though oil firms rake in billions.
It lends a small assurance and plausible logic to bravely shop when gasoline prices catapult with a sonic boom.
About a month ago the shopping magic was obliterated. And there went my good attitude.
Never fear, this story has a happy ending. But bear with me. Here’s what happened:
The Food City gasoline discount program called “Fuel Bucks”, I was told, “had changed.”
No advance notice or anything like that. The checkout people smiled politely and portrayed a sort of scripted “newer, better” program. Translated, the discount was still out there but shoppers were required to buy certain groups of items to qualify.
The new gasoline discount program had more strings attached and required a lawyer to understand. No more free-lance wandering, if you wanted the discount you had to pay studious attention.
My buzzing shopping was relegated to a slow motion museum tour experience, all the while listening to my anxious inner voice whispering “What items fit? What if I miscalculated?”
Frankly, I was outraged.
So, I expressed my views to local Food City managers and employees. To my surprise, they seemed openly sympathetic and in some cases shared my disappointment.
One employee said decades of superior customer support was sabotaged by a poor administrative decision. “They (corporate) blew it big time,” he confided.
At that moment, a question arose: “Who are these guys? Can Food City, despite their disarming Disney like behavior, really be trusted?” So my task was clear: Lend assistance that will help recapture and reform the great rebate.
We all appreciate Food City being here in Fairfield Glade. The company began in 1955 and remains privately held with 104 retail food outlets in Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. About 16 percent of the stock is owned by employees and about 8,000 associates work in Tennessee stores. That’s commendable and the foundation of building trust and community support beyond trappings.
Food City sponsors two NASCAR events at Bristol Motor Speedway, the Spring Sprint Cup race, the Food City 500 and the Fall Nationwide Series race, the Food City 250. The company is in its 22nd year in 2013 and currently the longest race entitlement sponsor in the Sprint Cup Series.
But I didn’t like this “change” they had made to the Fuel Bucks program.
However, most impactful were informal chats with managers of both Fairfield Glade and Crossville stores. Among other things, the chats indicated a reservoir of goodwill and professionalism that define the management style of current Chief Executive Officer, Steven Smith. Steven succeeded his father and founder, Jack Smith, who passed away at age 81 in 2007. Both father and son served extended stints in the U.S. Navy.
Steven Smith, as it turns out, will randomly, and unannounced, will drop-in to a Food City location and begin bagging groceries and talking to customers. “He is the real deal,” a manager told me. “You can carry on a discussion with him without pretence. He listens.”
There is plenty of positive information regarding Food City available on the Internet. The bottom line is that a legacy of honest owners, a company involved in community works, an exciting presence in national sports and children’s events.
So, armed with a rich heritage, why change responsible promotions?
Well, I am happy to report that, following a stream of letters from Fairfield Glade and Crossville customers, Steve Smith and Food City DID listen!
A smiling employee exclaimed to me that a corporate exec recently held a meeting and, citing my email (with many others) changed the program and restored satisfying changes.
My sprightly buzz has returned.
(Bill Piecuch can be reached at [email protected])
Food City VP of Marketing Ron Bonnaci took the time to call The Vista last week to affirm Food City’s “appreciation of Fairfield Glade and it’s residents” and added that Food City will “continue to look for ways to tweak” the Fuel Bucks Program to benefit its customers.