By Michele DeLuca firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — When Anthony DiMino moves through his supermarket, he’s constantly touching and rearranging products as he goes. Clearly a hands-on grocer, he knows the value of products well placed.
Dimino, owner of the Lewiston Tops, recently added $1.2 million in improvements to the Center Street store long-owned by his family, making fruit and vegetables more accessible, and as a result of new displays and presentations, produce sales are up nearly 20 percent, he said during a walk through his store on Monday.
The store is on its third remodel since the family acquired it in 1964 through Dimino’s father, Alphonso who was a founder of Tops Markets. It was recently upgraded with improvements that are unique to other Tops stores within the corporation.
“There’s not a produce department like this in the entire Tops company,” Dimino said proudly. He noted the changes were undertaken because “I felt that, based on my competition, which is Wegmans, I was tired of hearing how our produce was not as good.”
Basically, he explained, produce is the same in every store, no matter who owns it. “California lettuce is California lettuce,” he noted. The problem was not with the produce, it was with the presentation. So he did some independent research, shopping Kroger stores out west and creating a “dream store” with produce experts at the Tops Market Company, to come up with a renovation plan.
“I said to them, what would you do if you had an unlimited budget?” The finished result is a virtual wish list fulfilled, he said.
Ricky Wright, the produce field specialist for Tops, said the store now has the potential to present the largest organic variety of any of Tops 153 stores. “We wanted to really shout ‘organic variety’ in this store,” he said.
The recently unveiled changes in the produce department offer a more boutique-like selection process, with most produce colorfully displayed in baskets or bins so that it can be hand selected in individual pieces. Also new are wall-size refrigeration cases which make other produce and related items more easily seen and selected. The cases are easily accessible through light-weight glass doors, and the vibrant colors of the products are showcased with LED lights. Customers have responded to the new presentation, he said.
DiMino opened one of the doors and reached into the case to grab a bag of kale. “We used to sell one case of kale a week. Now we sell five,” he said.
The customer is able to see more of the products available due to the vertical display behind the doors, he said. The light-weight glass doors also help to keep the fruits and vegetables fresh longer. “There is not a grocery chain in the United States utilizing those doors for produce,” he added.
He walked over to the nearby deli, and pointed out more changes in display and accessibility. New deli cases were built with shelving below the glass displays, which offers customers easier access to prepared deli foods.
As he moved through the store, pointing out additional improvements such as wood trim on aisles and signage, he stopped to help one couple seeking bread crumbs, directing them several aisles away, before finishing a sentence.
He noted that as one of only two family-owned franchisees in the Tops company, he has much independence in deciding about renovations and product selection. As such, he carries a wide variety of products unavailable at other Tops stores, including locally produced items such as maple syrup, honey and hot sauce. Along with the renovations, he has added about 100 different artisan cheeses, which are cut in-store, and the same number of new craft beers, many of which are showcased in a refrigerator case where purchases can be made by the bottle. And, he has also hired two doughnut makers so the store can offer doughnuts made in-store, once again, especially the peach fritters which are a speciality of the store, in salute to the village’s annual Peach Festival.
Beyond doughnuts and specialty products, he added that the store continues to make its own sausage, from a secret family recipe, everyday, and continues to make prepared foods such as macaroni and cheese and pulled pork, fresh everyday in the store. The customers know the difference, he said, and look forward to the specialities. “Everyone knows that Friday is goulash day,” he said, smiling.
The intent, he said, is to enhance the shopping experience, but he added they also benefit by a store staff of nearly 200 that is largely comprised of long-time employees. “About 70 percent of my staff has been here over 10 years, and there are probably 30 of those with 25 years in,” he said.
“The industry is ever-changing and you have to be up to date,” he said. “We’re as up to date as any other store in the United States.”
DiMino noted that his store will celebrate its 50th anniversary in March. “I know we’re going to be here another 50 years,” he said.