Leppink’s recognized as Michigan Grocer’s outstanding retailer

By Emilee Nielsen • Last Updated 11:12 pm on Friday, September 16, 2016

Leppink’s Food Centers operates five Leppink’s stores, 11 Save-a-Lot stores and a Do It Best Hardware store throughout West Michigan. The organization is being awarded the 2016 Outstanding Retailer by the Michigan Grocers Association on Sunday during the fall conference on Sunday. Pictured is the Leppink’s Food Center Howard City location. — Daily News/Emilee Nielsen

Over the course of 88 years, the Leppink family has built a company with five Leppink’s Food Centers, 11 Save-a-Lot stores and a Do It Best Hardware store.

This year, Leppink’s Food Centers has been recognized by the Michigan Grocer’s Association as 2016’s Outstanding Retailer.

“It was an unexpected honor to receive the award,” said John Leppink, who owns the Belding, Howard City and Ferrysburg Leppink’s grocery stores with his brother-in-law, Rich Cole.

Their cousin, Ransom Leppink, owns the Lakeview and Stanton stores, and John Leppink said the credit for the family’s success can be directly attributed to their family lineage.

“We can give the dedication of that award to our fathers that (endowed) in us the know-how to give the best shopping experience possible to our customers,” he said.

The nomination came from H.T. Hackney and SpartanNash for its “true passion for the grocery industry, servant leadership, a climate for employee longevity, trustworthiness and more.”

Belding Leppink’s employee Lindsey Fortuna helps a customer checkout during her shopping experience Friday afternoon. Leppink’s Food Centers are being recognized by the Michigan Grocers Association as the 2016 Outstanding Retailer.

Charles Zeldenrust is the acting store director for the Howard City Leppink’s food center location. He started working for Leppink’s Food Centers 12 years ago and said it’s been a great place to work.

“I started working at a Save-a-Lot store as a meat department manager and their constant faith in me is what makes them so great,” he said. “They believe in their employees and they try to select the best people for the job. They reward those that do well and promote from within as high as they can so I think that’s what makes them a stronger company as well.”

Zeldenrust said he’s seen a lot of growth in the company since he began working there and thinks part of that growth comes from the financial independence gained from a successful business model.

The store chain sets itself apart from other retailers in the area by keeping the stores smaller, with the footprint for each store being different than the next to add a hometown market feel.

“If you walk into a store that Leppink’s operates compared to any other number of stores, there’s a remarkable difference in appearance and standards and items on the shelves,” Zeldenrust said. “If there’s a request, we try to satisfy that request. That’s company policy that the customer comes first.”

Another thing that sets the stores apart is the fact that there are still people who bag groceries for customers, and even take those groceries out to their car for them.

“I always remind associates who do that they can be replaced by a spinning wheel of plastic bags so with Leppink’s being willing to employ (them) is a statement of commitment to customers,” Zeldenrust said.

The Michigan Grocers Association (MGA) will officially bestow the award during its annual fall conference which is set for Sunday at the Boyne Highlands Resort in Harbor Springs.

John Leppink said he is very grateful to the staff at each of the various retail centers that are a part of the Leppink’s Food Centers of West Michigan.

“We’re thankful for the associates we have that work with us to set the standards we’ve put in place throughout the years as well as our wholesale and vendor community and the support they give us,” he said.

Zeldenrust and John Leppink both said that without a supportive customer base, the food centers may not have been recognized for this award or the other awards they’ve been given over the near-century the chain has been in business.

“People are dedicated. I think we have a pretty loyal following of people and I think it’s because the company prioritizes customer service in all ways,” Zeldenrust said.

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