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Business Observer Friday, Oct. 20, 2017 4 years ago

Do It Better

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Richard's Foodporium owner John Rorer is at the helm of a brand refresh. Part of the motive is competition. Another is the pursuit of excellence.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

In the mid-2000s, Richard's Foodporium owner John Rorer wrote a booklet about the history of the company and the natural food industry. In it, he says, he shrewdly predicted the blending of mass food markets and natural food markets.

“Darn if we're not seeing it today,” he says.

In Sarasota alone, where the natural food store chain is headquartered, there has been an influx of new food stores selling natural, organic and health-conscious products. The Sprouts Farmers Market grocery chain came to town a few months ago. A Lucky's Market location opened recently. A second Sarasota Whole Foods will be ready for shoppers soon. Those same chains are targeting other parts of the west coast of Florida.

While Rorer says he knew the natural food movement was on the rise, the “degree to which Sarasota has experienced a heightened level of competition surprised me,” he says. “There's no way there won't be a shakeout with that many natural food stores.”

Richard's, with $17 million in gross revenue in 2016 and 17 stores in Sarasota, Manatee, Pinellas, Charlotte and Flagler counties, opened its doors in 1979. “I feel very confident Richard's has a space in the market,” Rorer says. “For Richard's to be open after 38 years — we're not going away.”

He adds that because of the competition, the focus at his company should be on a key question: “If you're all doing the same thing, the question is,” he asks, is “'Are you doing it better?'”

Rorer, who describes himself as “proactive” and “future forward,” has a multi-phase plan to do it better at Richard's. While some details of the plan remain under wraps, he says the first phase will occur in six to nine months and involve introducing new products, decor and merchandising elements. Phase two will include examining the impact of the phase-one changes, making improvements and bringing in additional new products. Phase three, he says, will be similar to the second phase.

He declines to give specifics on the types of new products Richard's will add, but says customers will see the full force of where the company is going in one to two years.

And instead of testing the changes in a few select stores as some companies do, everything will be rolled out in all Richard's stores at once — somewhat counterintuitive in the grocery industry. “One of my things has always been consistency,” Rorer says. “We have customers who shop at three to four stores. We don't want them to have a different experience store to store.”

The changes at Richard's aren't all about competition. “Part of it is being pushed by competition, and part of it is I'm an entrepreneur who feels like businesses should refresh every 10 years anyway,” Rorer says.

Rorer intended to usher in the changes several years ago. But he was diagnosed with cancer in 2013, underwent treatment, and says it took a couple years after that for him to rebound and recover.

“It's cliche, but particularly after cancer I realize more how dependent, thankful and appreciative I am of a passionate, involved team,” he says. “They are on the front lines. They are Richard's.”

He's had assistance running the business from his daughter, Deva O'Donnell, who was the company's marketing manager. Now she's helping her father develop the new Richard's model as well as helping him research and develop other potential business interests.

Rorer is also a minority shareholder in a couple other businesses, and he says he's looking at some other retail and business industries where he thinks there's opportunity for disruption. “Whenever things are slow, I'm online looking for what business could I buy,” he says. “I love creating things.”

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