By Hank Weisner
RIPLEY – The Giant just got bigger.
The Food Giant grocery chain – which has a store in Ripley — has purchased the E. W. James grocery store in south Ripley, as well as Webster’s Supermarket in Ashland. Both new acquisitions will be known as Food Giant stores.
The goal is to grow sales and jobs at both stores by stressing customer service and enhanced product availability, a company official said this week.
The store sales were finalized on consecutive Saturdays earlier this month; Webster’s was purchased Dec. 1, while E. W. James was bought Dec. 8.
Ripley Food Giant general manager Adam Fowler will manage both stores in Ripley, while the Ashland store will be managed by David Pugh, Fowler said this week.
Customers will notice several immediate changes aimed at emphasizing customer service, Fowler said Monday afternoon.
“We’ll be changing the merchandizing at the former E. W. James store, in terms of what’s on the shelves and what items are on sale. We’ve also added several new products, including different milk and dairy products.” He said the deli – long a staple of good food in Ripley – will continue. The store hours will be Sunday through Saturday 5 a.m. – 8 p.m. at the south store, and 6 a.m. – 9 p.m. at the north store.
While service and selection are improving, customers will see plenty of familiar faces. “We kept about 90 percent of the staff; 27 of 33 people,” at the former E. W. James store, Fowler said.
He said plans are to add some more jobs as both Ripley stores grow. If the stores do indeed expand, they will continue a trend started when the first Food Giant was started in Ripley four years ago. That store began with about 41 people; it has now grown to about 82 employees, Fowler said.
The biggest problem in acquiring both stores was replacing the register and computer systems with ones compatable with the Food Giant systems. “One day we had the old systems out and the next day ours were installed,” he recalled.
“We thank the community for their support over the years, and we hope they’ll support us in the future. Without that support, we couldn’t have done any of this.”
Food Giant is a division of Houchens Industries, Inc., headquartered in Bowling Green, Ky. Houchens is a diversified company with varied interests that include not only the Food Giant and Houchens grocery stores, but construction and Internet services, Hilliard-Lyons financial services, and Subway and Sonic as well, Fowler said.
Houchens Industries, originally founded in 1917 by Ervin Houchens as a food store, today has nearly 16,000 employee owners doing business in almost every state in North America and 30 plus countries throughout the world.
From 1988, when the company was purchased by the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), Houchens Industries has experienced unprecedented growth.
Today, Houchens Industries, Inc. is a diversified conglomerate wholly owned by its employee owners. Houchens has businesses in retail grocery and convenience stores, quick-to-service restaurants, insurance, stock brokerage and financial services, franchising of optical stores, construction, fence materials manufacturing and distribution, crushed stone aggregates and asphalt paving, recycling, tanning supply distribution, manufacturing, software and website development, property management and juice concentrate manufacturing and distribution.
It is listed by Forbes as one of the largest 100% privately held companies in North America and according to the ESOP Association, the largest 100% employee owned company.