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    Buehler's Fresh Foods' new format takes the grocer from 'vanilla' to '32 flavors' of retailing excellence.

    Buehler's Fresh Foods has created a "Big Stir" in northeast Ohio -- and it's just one of many unique features that has customers flocking to its new 90,000-square-foot independently owned supermarket.

    Located in affluent Jackson Township, just minutes from Canton's Pro Football Hall of Fame, the store celebrated its grand opening weeks ago.

    In addition to The Big Stir, a made-to-order pasta and noodle kitchen that invites customers to "personalize their pasta," the store showcases a number of other unique departments and services developed to meet the demands of today's time-starved consumers: a full-service 10,000-square-foot Ace Hardware outlet; The Scenic River Coffee Co.; The Oven Works, featuring oven-baked pizzas and subs; a Kidzpark child care and learning center; a full-service sit-down restaurant called Buehler's Main Street Grill; an extensive natural and organic department; a pharmacy; a scratch bakery; and lots more.

    Need to drop off the dry cleaning, send flowers to a loved one via FTD, or even have a favorite pair of shoes mended? How about that morning trip to the U.S. Post Office? There's not much that consumers can't do at the new Buehler's.

    This state-of-the-art supermarket likely features all of the products and services a customer could possibly want, but most impressive is the level of customer service provided by store manager Jackie Kirby and her 200-plus associate staff -- a level of service that's been the foundation of Buehler's Fresh Foods for nearly 80 years.

    Founded as a small corner grocery in 1929 by E.L. "Ed" Buehler and his wife, Helen, the Wooster, Ohio-based independent now operates 13 conventional stores. It's recognized as a leading independent that continues to embrace change, not just to satisfy customers, but also to provide growth opportunities for associates.

    And like so many successful grocers, the Buehlers understand that change should start at the top.

    "Three years ago we restructured our entire organization," says director of consumer affairs Mary McMillen. "It was an important process that identified specific areas of responsibility for all family leaders and key associates. At the same time, we began to look at growth opportunities in the market. That's when we identified Jackson Township as a place where we wanted to do business."

    Adds Kirby: "With the assistance of our wholesaler, Nash Finch, who performed market studies and a site analysis for us, and the unconditional support of the local Jackson Township officials and chamber of commerce, here we are today, operating this fantastic new store."

    While the building is new, so is the retail concept, which was inspired solely by Buehler's fourth generation of family leaders and designed in conjunction with Los Angeles-based Shook Kelly, an award-winning architectural firm with whom the retailer became acquainted through FMI.

    "We're no longer 'vanilla,'" laughs McMillen. "We're 32 different flavors. This store is spacious and so colorful. It's awesome!"

    And it's also not likely to be the last show-stopper for the Buehler organization, which is recognized nationwide as a pacesetter for independents, not only for its commitment to customer service, but also for its innovation and for operating at all times in a fiscally responsible manner.

    Relying on a diverse and devoted management team, the company also continues to focus intently on opportunities that will allow its people to grow.

    "Our employees are the heart and soul of our business," confirms McMillen. "In this company we have two No. 1's: our employees and our customers."

    She adds: "The best thing about working for Buehler's is the trust, honor, and kindness that the family shares with all of us. They empower us to manage the organization, yet they applaud our failures. We're applauded for trying, and encouraged to focus on what lessons we can take with us."

    "The family truly understands that they need us," concurs Kirby, who began her career at Buehler's as a part-time produce clerk 27 years ago. "They acknowledge all associates every single day, and it's become contagious. We in turn pass that appreciation on to our customers."

    Independent Retailing Editor Jane Olszeski Tortola can be reached at [email protected].

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