Editorial: Does Tumbler Ridge Deserve Customer Satisfation Guaranteed?

Lynsey Kitching

Since Trent is away in Edmonton this week, I have been humbly given the opportunity to write the editorial…no pressure.

I have decided to discuss a topic that seems to be on repeat. Not like my favourite new tune on Grooveshark, but rather like that Carly Rea Jepsen song that blares over the speakers when wandering through store aisles, that just won’t seem to fade away into the top 40 abyss…I wonder if he ever called? Maybe?

Anyways, having lived in large cities and small towns in both BC and Ontario including Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Hamilton (unfortunately), Niagara Falls, Dorset (population 400), Bancroft (population about 4,000) and now Tumbler Ridge, I have seen a range of grocery stores.

Though prices and quality vary, there seems to be one major constant: when there is no competition, there seems to be little drive to ensure customer satisfaction.

Though many community members are satisfied with our one source to buy groceries, there seems to be an overwhelming majority that is not.

We see too many community members shopping at a store because they have no other option, not because it is a business they would like to support. Others choose to drive out of town to get groceries, supporting other town’s economies.

Though I may get publicly ridiculed, let’s coax the big giant blue elephant waving a little white flag out from underneath the shelves and out into the open.

Since moving to town nine months ago I don’t think a single day has past where I haven’t heard someone grumbling about the Shop Easy, and though as people we grumble a lot, I’ve never heard so much grumbling about one topic specifically.

The bananas! The zucchinis! The meat! Why is my bill so high!! BAHHHHHH!

Through a recent thread on a Tumbler Ridge Facebook group, many community members were venting about the only option for buying groceries in town. Some were upset about quality and prices, some were defending the store and advising people to go and speak their mind to the source.

The thread had over a hundred comments from at least 25 Tumblerites.

January England wrote, “I only shop there if I absolutely have to. I mentioned to Darryl that I had purchased some granola bars which had expired six months previously and I was told that those dates are “just a guideline” and that things are ok to eat well past them.”

It is legal for stores to sell products that are past the best before date, however illegal to sell items that are past the expiry date. Though it is legal and eating, say, potato chips that are past their ‘best before’ date won’t kill you, they probably won’t have that crunchy flavoured fried potato taste you were craving because they just aren’t at their best. Not illegal, but kind of a bummer.

Another commenter, Faye Mease, stated, “I am all for supporting community but not when the prices are so high and the quality is very low sometimes. It is not so much Darryl’s fault but the ones who put the products on the shelf. I had bought some cream once and it went bad in two days. I am not one to keep every little receipt thinking I might need it. I just wanted to inform the owner of the problem but was totally dismissed.”

After reading through the debate, I decided to talk to the owner Darryl Krakowka to discuss some of the points I have heard and read citizens discuss regarding his store.

Krakowka has been the owner of Shop Easy for six years this July.

When asked about expired food on the shelves Krakowka says, “Sometimes things go bad before the best before date. I’ve had that happen lots in my years of business. People will come to me and show me the stuff they’ve bought from Safeway and from Co-Op. They’re getting their product the same as we do. Safeway I find gets a better grade produce but No Frills is getting the same produce we get. They just get a cheaper deal because they have corporate backing.”

Shop Easy, according to the Loblaws public relations department, “is an affiliated independent store and the No Frills in Dawson Creek, BC is a Franchisee Store. Franchisee owners contribute into the business financially and this differentiates them from the affiliated independent store owners.”

Though the spokeswoman wouldn’t elaborate on this comment, what I believe she means is that Shop Easy has higher priced products because the store is not paying into the Loblaws umbrella. This means the consumer picks up the slack. Please, correct me if I’m wrong.

On top of this, the store pays a little more for transportation.

Another concern brought forth by numerous community members was being able to return items after the purchaser has brought them home to find they have gone bad.

Krakowka makes a promise to future shoppers, “I don’t even care about the receipt. I’ve never asked that. Any time it’s expired or even if it’s bad before the best before date, even if it’s not past the date and the product doesn’t seem right, we would totally refund it. That’s any grocery store I would hope.”

One thing that may help shoppers get the freshest food possible from Shop Easy would be to know when the trucks arrive with all the goodies.

Krakowka says, “We get orders three times a week. The trucks get here Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. We try to order enough to get us through to the next day.”

He explains the store gets most of its produce, meats and dairy from a Loblaws warehouse in Calgary. “Some of it is BC product so it’s coming across the highways. We do get Alberta product too. From places like China, I have no idea how they get it to the warehouse.”

The store receives the truck between eight and noon on order days.

Krakowka says Shop Easy also supplies Butcher Block meats such as pepperoni, sausages and back bacon. “It’s in a cooler at the back. It says Lawrence on the package. We also carry the Hutterite’s produce in the summertime,” he says continuing, “We try to keep everything as fresh as we can.”

As a vegan (guess I just stepped out of the proverbial food closet), I have found there to be a great selection of vegetarian options through the President’s Choice Blue Menu available at the Shop Easy, but have had to come home on numerous occasions without the vegetables and fruits I went in to buy. Though this can be frustrating, sometimes I branch out and simply try what looks the freshest.

With only one grocery store, it is difficult for many to simply say, ‘Well, I just won’t shop there anymore.”

The next closest grocery store, mind you, is over an hour away, depending on your pace, but remember the faster you drive, the more gas you guzzle. Even if you’re driving a relatively fuel-efficient vehicle, like the Toyota Matrix, you’re still using 7 l/100 km, or 15.5 l. The price of gas is $123.8 in Dawson Creek (more money spent out of town), so you’ll be adding an extra $19.18 to the cost of your groceries. Though really, how many people in Tumbler Ridge drive smaller vehicles? If you shop at Safeway in Dawson Creek and spend over $50 in groceries, (which isn’t that tough these days) they will give you five cents a litre back in gas money, something I find to help balance out the cost of driving. The problem is, we would all like to see our money staying in our community and to be supporting local businesses.

At the recent Candidate’s forum, the topic came up about how to get more people who come into town to work, to spend their money here, buy their groceries here. Well, one way to do that is to offer good quality products at reasonable prices, but the argument remains for some reason, that this is not possible here. Something I personally struggle to believe.

One great suggestion which was brought up to help those who are unsatisfied with Shop Easy, is that perhaps a group can get together and each week or a few times a week, someone gets a grocery list from all those who want to participate and then one person could head into Dawson Creek to get all the desired supplies. There could be a drivers’ rotation or something along those lines. But again, we would be taking our money out of town, so how does that make us any more supportive of our community than the so-called ‘transients’?

For me, it all comes down to one simple basic premise of good business, and that is customer satisfaction. If customers aren’t satisfied, something should be changing. Though you will never please everyone, improvements can always be made.

The objective here was not to point fingers or lay blame about prices and quality at our grocery store, rather to bring this topic in focus to hopefully have some open and honest discussion about it as a community as a whole and look for ways to make grocery shopping a better experience for all of us. I have noticed lately the produce has been very fresh. I’m sure all customers hope to see this trend continue. Because after all, eating is one of the fundamentals of life that can’t just be boycotted…forever. …though I may now get banned from the grocery store.