From bagging clerk to grocery expert, Associated Supermarket Group’s (ASG) President and CEO Joe Garcia knows a thing or two about making something out of nothing. After watching his family struggle for a better life in the United States after fleeing Cuba in the early 1960s, Joe learned that success doesn’t come easily.
“I watched them rebuild their lives in a new country,” he remembers. “I watched their work ethic and how that carried them through. I watched them become successful.”
These observations helped Joe navigate the challenges he’s faced at ASG. “We built ASG from scratch at the beginning of 2013 and we’ve had a lot of ups and downs in that time,” he says.
One of the biggest challenges was when the company’s major wholesaler went bankrupt. “They did everything for us,” Joe says, “from technology to our accounts receivable systems.” But because of Joe’s forward-thinking aptitude, instead of going down with them, something rather serendipitous happened instead.
“When I joined ASG, the company didn’t have any technology in place. So, my first initiative was to build a proper technology infrastructure that could support our company and our customers,” he explains. “And it wasn’t a minute too soon either. I came onboard in January 2013, and in September 2014, the wholesaler went out of business.”
As a former CTO, Joe saw ASG’s blank technological slate as a blessing in disguise. “We were fortunate in the sense that we had nothing,” he says.
“Starting from scratch saves a lot of time. We built a set of state-of-the-art systems and an internal network using best-in-class hardware and software with an eye towards flexibility and economy. We were able to build custom solutions that met our needs. Now, we have a very simple system that supports our internal users as well as our customers with timely, data-driven information.”
It’s the forward-thinking and embrace of technology that allow ASG to keep up and interact with its customers like never before. “There’s a social media revolution, and now we’re able to reach our customers and consumers in a way that we weren’t able to before. The marketplace is rapidly moving away from traditional media to more fluid, technology-based media that can react to any situation,” Joe says.
“We’re now able to invest in these banners through social media to keep them relevant. And we’re able to provide support and customization to each store’s individual needs. It’s something we do better than anybody else.”
ASG, whose sole purpose is to provide access for independent grocers in New York City to recognized banners, merchandising, advertising, development, financing and technological services, also depends upon key partnerships to keep up with its customers’ ever evolving needs. “C&S Wholesale Grocers is our main grocery supplier – they’re a very big part of our business,” Joe says.
“We’re able to provide support and customization to each store’s individual needs. It’s something we do better than anybody else.”
“While we facilitate grocery distribution to our stores, we don’t actually touch the product. We basically enter into these types of partnerships with our suppliers for them to deliver the products, goods and services to the stores. As the shift to natural and healthier products continues, we will keep expanding and enhancing our product offerings. This, in turn, helps fuel our growth. So, we are always looking for supply partners that are filling some of these voids and niches that we see the market gravitating towards. It’s our vision to become the premier grocery retail services company in our operating area.”
In this line of business, Joe says the company’s success is reliant on a happy customer. “We are the backbone of the independent retailer, and we’re here to deliver on their business needs,” he says.
“ASG is a services company. For us, success lies in the customer service experience – what the customer sees. In my opinion, if you exceed your customer’s expectations, you’re going to be successful. You’re going to grow organically through word of mouth. So, that’s our strategy – to service our customers beyond their expectations.”
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