Nick Kusmierski and his family purchased the Wellsville and Cuba stores last month
By Andrew Harris, photo by John Anderson
When the Kusmierski Family committed to purchasing the Wellsville and Cuba grocery stores, it was like many business ventures, a calculated risk. While they are Western New Yorkers, the great wilds of Allegany county was largely unknown to the owners of the Market in the Square stores in Erie County. Now, after a month of orientation and learning more about the communities they have invested in, the experienced grocers are openly optimistic and pleasantly surprised.
Nick Kusmierski has been spending plenty of time in Wellsville and Cuba, enough so that a vision for the stores is quickly coming into focus. We talked with Nick about his experience in Allegany County so far, his families vision, and what that vision looks like.
WS: Even though you and your family are local to our area, Allegany County must have been somewhat of a mystery to you. What made you decide to invest here?
Nick: This wasn’t an opportunity that was necessarily in our plans, but when opportunity knocks, sometimes you have to answer. This transaction took about a year to formalize. Over the course of that year we were able to understand a bit more about the stores (Wellsville and Cuba) and learn about the communities they were in. Although there are differences between Wellsville and Cuba and our Buffalo area stores, there are a lot of similarities. Primarily a great sense community. We are a family owned and operated business and we take pride in the communities that we serve. A great community, or in this case communities, is always worth investing in.
WS: After a month or so on the job, what has surprised you the most about Wellsville, Cuba, and Allegany County?
Nick: The employees and the people we see in the stores. We were confident that there were great employees in the stores, but I guess you could say we were surprised at “How Great” they were! They have been extremely welcoming and energetic at a time when there was a bit of unknown from their perspective. These transactions came as a surprise to them (not what we wanted), so in a time when they may have been a bit anxious or nervous, they were extremely positive. Additionally, the interactions with customers has been great. If a customer recognizes us and says hello, it is followed by a warm welcome and usually a remark about how great the community is. I don’t want to say those things are surprising, as Western New York seems to exhibit all these qualities on a regular basis, but it is still nice to see and makes us feel great about being here.
WS: Your company motto is “Give them what they want.” What do these two communities really want from a grocery store? Is it the same thing as your Erie County customers or are their some clear differences?
Nick: I think we will learn about specific product preference and customer tastes as we go. I am sure that some of the items that are unique to our Buffalo-area stores will be popular in Wellsville and Cuba as well. I think what I take more from “Give them what they want” in the early stages of us operating these stores is to understand what customers and these communities want in their grocery store. I think customers want a store they can enjoy going to and bump into their friends and family and have a conversation. I think they want a store where the employees are friendly and willing to help them out, and where they can get quality products at fair prices. I think that our employees want a store that they can be proud of saying, “I work there”. We want a store that the community is proud of and people are happy to have serving them. If we can come through on those things, I think we will have succeeded.
WS: You’ve frequently explained how impressive the employees of Giant and what a warm welcome you have received. Any thoughts on bringing back the old slogan, “Our people make the difference?”
Nick: The employees of both stores are the backbone of these operations. We want to give them an environment to thrive, where they can be happy to coming into work each and every day. “Our People” do make the difference and will continue to make the difference. I don’t think that slogan will ever go away internally and we certainly will make sure that people know we are proud of our employees.
WS: Looking toward this spring and summer, what changes and improvements can customers expect to see happening sooner rather than later?
Nick: As we get our feet wet in the operations of the stores, we are certainly identifying areas for improvement. The investment in these stores has not been sufficient in the last few years and we are looking to rectify that. With supply chain issues and labor shortages, all the things we want to address may take some time, as manufacturers and suppliers lead times are very long. We have spoken to some contractors and will look to improve the look and feel of the stores, as well as add some new fixtures. We will also be looking to implement new products and items that we have had success with at our Buffalo-area stores. That may take some time as new suppliers are being brought on board and employees are trained in some new processes.
WS: How about in 2023 and beyond. Do you and your family have a vision of these stores in the future?
Nick: Our vision would be to continually invest and improve these stores. As we move along, that may evolve and the thought processes may change, but the goal will always be to get better. We are very proud of the West Seneca and North Tonawanda stores, so those stores are a bit of ‘blueprint’ as to how we would like to operate Wellsville and Cuba. There would obviously be some differences to reflect the needs and desires of the community, but they would serve as a good model. It will be a process, but it will be fun to guide the ship to get there.
WS: This is truly a family operation. Your dad and sister(s)? are a key members of the business. Can you tell us a little about how the family divides up the workload ?
Nick: My Dad, Brian, has been in the grocery industry for about 50 years now – he has so much experience and knowledge, so my sisters and I just try to soak a lot of that up. The great part about my Dad is that he is still constantly learning and changing the way he sees and does things to try to be better. My Dad and I are really focused on the store operations and making sure that those are getting to the level we desire.
I take on a lot of the marketing tasks and work with a lot of different people who do a great job. We have so many great partners across our business that do a great job and make my job a lot easier.
My sister Erin is very involved in the IT side of the business and making sure that a lot of the processes that no one sees or talks about are working. The infrastructure to operate a store and make sure that it is seamless and working properly is a monmumental task. She does a great job and also provides great information that we can use to make smart decisions.
My sister Danielle works a lot on the people side of the business. She is involved in the Human Resources and Administrative side of the business. Making sure the folks that work for us have the tools and information they need to make them successful. Like Erin, she provides a lot of support to the business to make sure it is smooth-sailing and that there are no hiccups along the way.
The long and short of it is that we all work together to make sure that we are doing the best we can. We support each other and make sure that we are all pulling in the same direction towards our goals!