Natchez — Working in the grocery business and being involved in the community are two things Barry Loy has been doing since he was a young boy. At age 46, he is pleased to continue both family traditions. He serves as vice president and retail operations manager of Supermarket Operations, the company started by his father, Harley Loy, in 1969.
Three of the Loys’ seven supermarkets in the Miss-Lou region are located in Natchez. Their slogan is “Hometown people serving our hometown.” Even with the world’s largest retailer opening a superstore in Natchez 10 years ago, the Loys’ Natchez Markets have survived and done well. Kroger and Winn-Dixie folded, leaving the Loys’ businesses as the only other grocery stores in town. They purchased the closing Winn-Dixie store.
“I feel like part of our survival is because we’re involved in the community,” Barry Loy said. “We work with the chamber, churches, schools, United Way and Cancer Association. We believe in being active in the community and putting back a lot of what we take in.”
That commitment to community was fostered by Harley Loy, who believed in keeping money spent with a locally-owned business in the local community and not sent off somewhere else.
Supermarket Operations raised the most money of any participants in the Cancer Society’s Relay for Life fundraiser in May. Barry Loy says the event is close to his family’s heart and they encourage employees to participate by having a competition among the stores.
Supermarket Operations is a founding sponsor of the Natchez Area Food, Home & Health Show that was held last weekend for the seventh year. They were there with booths giving out samples, coupons and new products.
Laura Godfrey, executive director of the chamber of commerce, says Barry Loy is someone the chamber can count on.
“He’s very active and always willing to help any way he can,” she said. “His family has been here for many years, and they believe in this community.”
The seven supermarkets employ 320 people with an annual payroll of $4.5 million. All the stores are named for the towns where they’re located including the three Natchez Markets, which are the longest in operation. Other markets are across the river in the Louisiana towns of Vidalia, Ferriday, Ball and Oakdale. The stores range from 20,000 to 40,000 square feet in size.
“Service is our biggest tool. We know our customer base and sell what they want,” Loy said. “We operate on the same standards of any chains when it comes to clean stores, modern computer systems and other things. Service and quality in the perishable departments are essential, too.”
Loy says supermarkets must continually remodel and modernize to stay in business. Two of the Natchez Markets were remodeled last year and are paying big dividends. “We added a deli and rotisserie chicken that’s very popular,” he said. “We put in more modern refrigeration and that is important, too. The cost of energy is one of our biggest expenses. Our energy bills for July were $3,000 per store higher than last July.”
The markets are members of the National Grocers Association and of Associated Grocers, a cooperative out of Baton Rouge. Loy points out that it’s very costly to operate a grocery and the profit margins are close. It takes about a $4-million investment to open a new independent store.
However, he says the health of independents is better than chain stores. “Independents are doing well because they can react faster, don’t have the debt load of chains and get involved with communities more,” he said. “The older ones are not surviving because they aren’t modernizing.”
Although the business climate has been difficult in Natchez for the past few years, Loy says the city, as the only city in a 30-mile radius, is surviving as a tourism, healthcare and retail hub. “We’ve been fortunate to have growth during this time,” he said. “People get more conservative in hard times and eat at home more. Also, we’ve done a lot to upgrade.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.