Farm Boy will expand its presence to 15 stores across Ontario, said the company's chief executive Jeff York at a breakfast speech event co-hosted by OBJ and the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce.
© Joël Côté-Cright
Jeff York, CEO of the Farm Boy chain.
As announced recently, they will open a Kingston location this fall, he said, with a senior management team from Ottawa moving down the highway to head up the new location.
"You can't tell yourself you're doing well just because you're doing well in Ottawa," Mr. York said about the 13 existing locations surrounding the city that stemmed from a produce stand in Cornwall in 1981.
The Ontario locations will remain about an hour to 1.5 hours away from Ottawa so that fresh daily deliveries can be made from the store's $1.5-million commercial kitchen on Walkley Road.
Farm Boy is not a grocery store, but a fresh food retailer, Mr. York said, adding that as the population gets older, the idea of big-box stores becomes less appealing. People are more willing to go to smaller, more specialized stores that are clean, bright and feel like home, he said.
Factors setting Farm Boy apart from its competitors include foods made fresh by the company such as salsa, low-sodium soups and egg nog at Christmas time. A new hot food menu and sit-down eating area will be added to the Orléans location soon, Mr. York said.
Customers are also greeted by employees, who go through a rigorous training program where pointing is a strict no-no. Workers must escort customers directly where they need to go and ask if they need any additional help.
While Mr. York acknowledged that Farm Boy is "late to the party" in terms of social media - the company's new Twitter page currently has 102 followers and it hasn't yet launched on Facebook - it does take advantage of radio advertising, something that few grocery stores do, Mr. York said. A product that would normally sell about 500 units would sell around 5,000 after being broadcast on the radio, he said.
The company also isn't afraid of "good old fashioned hokeyness," Mr. York said, offering weekly recipe contests and an educational back page on its weekly flyer.
Mr. York first became well-known for working his way up from warehouse manager to president of Canada's third largest discount retail chain Giant Tiger. Mr. York left the company, which generates more than $1.3 billion in annual revenues, to become CEO of Farm Boy in 2009.
But regardless of how successful Giant Tiger or Farm Boy have become, it's important to remember where big enterprises come from, Mr. York said.
"Every business starts small," he said.