Customer service, old-time values key to keeping Dick's Food Stores alive and well
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Dick's Food Stores offers two locations
As apron-clad employees carry groceries to cars and customers and pass on reminders to "like" the business on Facebook, there's no doubt that Dick's Food Store offers a bit of nostalgia with a modern twist.
But that old-meets-new mindset is no accident.
Management says it's a willingness to adapt to the times while holding on to old-fashioned values that has kept the company alive and well.
The family-owned grocery got its start in 1938 with Albert Dick, said Ronnie Hyak, Dick's nephew and company president. The aspiring grocer, who grew up in the business, established the first location on Moody Street before asking brother Bill Dick and brother-in-law George Hyak to join the venture.
"They formed a partnership," Hyak said from his office at the 1302 E. Crestwood Drive store. "But they all ended up going to war, serving in World War II. Then it was the women running the store because the men were gone."
Apparently the fairer sex did just fine, he said, noting the company continued on and grew to three locations. In addition to the original West End store on Moody, the Crestwood store opened in 1955, and another in the Lone Tree Shopping Center came on in the early 1960s.
As time progressed, so did the company's practices.
Hyak said management incorporated card readers, computers and top-of-the-line scanners as the technology became available. The meat department also introduced a self-service aspect, giving customers the option of choosing their own cuts with a butcher or picking up pre-packaged varieties.
That added option is one reason Hyak said the store is still known citywide for its meat.
"We've taken the meat market to a level you don't see larger stores do," he said. "That's one way we've adapted, keeping the old but bringing in the new."
Hyak said the store's small stature offers benefits, allowing it to react more quickly to customer complaints or concerns, and to stock new items when people want them.
"Sure, we can't carry all that H-E-B has because we don't have the square footage," he said. "We won't be the price leaders in town, but we are fair and reasonably priced. And people respect that."
Dennis Willemin, who has worked with Dick's for 34 years, agreed.
He said the store stocks seasonal items the locals want that larger places might not carry. Winter is when many people make homemade sausage, he explained, and the store makes sure to have casings, mix-ins, seasoning and more all on hand.
It also goes above and beyond when necessary, he said, noting he makes regular deliveries to tug boats, offering up everything hungry fishermen might need on the water.
Dick's opened its latest endeavor, a Seadrift location, in 2008 but Hyak said the company experienced its share of obstacles.
The 1998 flood that drenched Victoria led to many people vacating their homes around the Moody Street store. About a year after waters subsided, that store closed its doors.
"It was such a good store for all those years, but it was getting kind of tough," he said. "In hindsight, maybe we shouldn't have closed it. But I guess we sort of panicked."
The Lone Tree location, which experienced some struggles after new competition joined the mix, closed in 1993.
Hyak's sister, Karen Barton, serves as vice president of Dick's Food Stores. Like her brother, she grew up in the market. It's hard work, she admitted, but rewarding forming friendships with longtime customers.
Store employees, too, became extended family.
"We've got people who have been with us a long time," she said, explaining the store has employed workers whose grandchildren went on to work there as well. "When you really sit back and think about it, you realize how many people you've employed through the years. It's kind of neat."
With his 50 or so years helping to keep the grocery store stocked, Ysidro Serenil is the company's longest-serving employee. He said it was the way the business operated, with everyone on a level playing field, that kept him there year after year.
"We respect each other," he said, perched on a chair in his boss's office. "They respect us and we respect them. That means a lot."
Hyak agreed it's that personal element that helped keep the business going.
"You can have all the high-tech you want, but it's still people who make things work," he said. "We just believe that, to do it right, you've got to have the right people in the right places."
Down the road, Hyak said he looked forward to the Crestwood store's 75th anniversary in 2013, and hoped to host a community celebration. As for the business itself, he said he expected to see it continue down the same path it always has.
After all, he said, it's worked so far.
"We're here," he said. "We don't plan on going anywhere."