By BECKY GILLETTE
The only Whole Foods Market in Mississippi, located in Highland Village in the heart of Jackson, recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. Billed as “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store,” Whole Foods has become an even better shopping destination since being acquired by Amazon, said Masa Liles, general manager of Highland Village.
“When you see what Amazon is doing, they are bringing some exciting innovations to retail,” Liles said. “They have brought together the best of both worlds, the brick-and-mortar experience combined with the Amazon online shopping experience. They are kind of changing the way people shop. But they have kept to the core values of Whole Foods bringing healthy choices to the community. Amazon is just an additional benefit, really.”
Liles said having first Whole Foods in Mississippi brought a whole new wave of shoppers to Highland Village. She said people often say once they visit a Whole Foods, they are hooked.
“They are adding experiential elements to the shopping experience,” Liles said. “People are going there for other reasons other than to shop. This is where a lot of people get their coffee every morning, and they have an amazing hot breakfast bar. They have an olive bar. They have homemade guacamole. They have a community room where you can have meetings. On Friday afternoons, people often bring their dogs and sit out on the patio to have a craft beer. That has become a popular thing with people and their friends.”
Store Team Leader Ben Wallace said every single Whole Foods Market is built with the community it serves in mind.
“Because of that, you get a very vibrant community feel,” Wallace said. “People like to hang out, or grab a cup of coffee. At the café upstairs, they often read or do homework.”
Wallace said there is an overwhelming sense of pride by team members in providing an exceptional customer experience. He said when he became Store Team Leader a year and a half ago, they made an effort to listen to the team member base concerning their passions.
“We tried to take all the assets we already had in the store and make sure they were in the right places,” Wallace said. “We spent a lot of time listening to our team and finding the perfect placement for them. When we made sure people were in the right jobs, the sense of ownership and pride really exploded. We were able to see immediate dividends in the quality of work, the quality of customer service, and the passion team members brought to their job every single day. We really love what we do.”
In addition to working to source the best quality ingredients they can get, Wallace said they also put an emphasis on value with their 365 private label offerings.
“Now with the joint venture between us and Amazon, Amazon Prime members get an additional ten percent off sale items every day,” he said. “And they are also privy to Prime member deals where items are anywhere from 35 to 60 percent off.”
Wallace was accepted to law school after college. But he had worked for Wild Oats (acquired by Whole Foods Market in 2007) in Nashville, throughout high school and college. He came to realize that becoming a lawyer wasn’t going to make him truly happy. So, he went to work for Whole Foods in Memphis.
“From this point on, I was in love,” Wallace said. “I helped transition the existing Wild Oats Market to a Whole Foods Market location and eventually opened a brand-new store unlike anything the Memphis market had even seen. From Memphis, I moved to Hilton Head Island, S.C. to open another new location and got married to my amazing wife, whom I met at a Whole Foods Market. After Hilton Head, my wife and I have lived in Knoxville, Tenn., Memphis (again) and now Jackson. Along the way, we have made a ton of amazing memories and have two beautiful daughters to accompany us.”
Wallace said he feels very fortunate in his choice of a profession. “It has never felt like a job because what I do is so close to my heart,” he said.
Wallace said his deep love for food that inspires experiences and creates memories began at an early age. Both sides of his family produced their own crops and had the farm-to-table mentality before it was the hottest culinary trend.
“Food can transform our lives because of the nutrients it contains or because of the moment in time that we experience it,” said Wallace. “Some of my most amazing experiences in life have been shared over a glass of wine or one perfect bite of food that was the expression of someone else’s passion. And we will do everything we possibly can to ensure that Jackson has a place that can help provide that for anyone who seeks it.”
Jackson is his first location as a store team leader, and he said it has been an amazing opportunity.
“Our goal is to provide the best shopping experience in Mississippi and do whatever it takes to get there,” Wallace said. “The teamwork, drive and dedication that I get to see every day is absolutely inspiring. I could honestly mention a hundred team members by name and give examples of what they do well and how they have personally inspired me. This is an absolute testament to how blessed I am to work with this particular group of individuals.”
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