Click here to read Part 1 of the interview. Helping independent grocers gain a competitive edge in the marketplace Robert Graybill is the president and CEO of FMS Solutions, a service and IT provider to the independent grocery industry throughout North America and northern South America. With offices across the continent and in India and Central Asia, FMS combines industry-leading technology and best practices to serve clients through what it calls a “Decision Support Suite.” This September the company will host the Financial Management & Technology Conference, co-presented by the National Grocers Association, which officially endorses FMS. What does the EY Entrepreneur of the Year nomination mean to you? I think the most important thing with the Ernst & Young program is it’s a chance for us as a company to tell who we are to the marketplace because obviously the biggest problem for every business is labor. When I say labor, I mean good labor, good people. Smaller companies tend to have a harder time attracting top talent. You’ll go to work for a company like EY if you’re an accountant, and if you’re top of your class, FMS is going to be on the list down here versus E&Y up there. So, by getting that brand recognition from a program like this it not only helps the company but it helps the employees. What are your primary challenges in attracting talented employees? Biggest challenges are probably people. The people we have are great, of course. It’s finding people that fit into that culture. We’re not a business, and I’m not a person that watches what you do at work. You come to work, you do your job. If the clients are happy and your work’s done, if you’re slipping out for an hour and a half or two hours to run errands, I don’t care. It’s your client, you’ve got a client base you’ve got to maintain. Finding that sometimes out there when you bring somebody in who has been micromanaged and you plug them in, it’s almost like a kid going off to college—which I fear for my older son next year. You’re basically opening doors of freedom to them. And, we’ve had some failures there, where people come in, and if nobody is watching them, they’re going to do what they want to do. If you can learn that responsibility level, however, FMS is a great place to work because you do what you want to do. How do you stay competitive in the industry? The grocery industry obviously is very competitive. Our most recent venture was in labor management, labor scheduling, using different algorithms to look at days of the week; time. Sales date has always been a core base for determining labor, but on top of that, knowing the days of the week, the history from previous years. Snowstorms, as we all know, result in people rushing to the grocery store. So, if you base your labor off of history and there’s a specific event or specific day of the week—if 4th of July falls on a Friday versus a Saturday, etc.—it has impacts on sales and labor. That’s been our core focus really to help the bottom line of the retailers recently. Describe your competitors—does anyone else do what FMS does? Our competitive landscape is interesting. We’ve got a lot of competitors to some degree but very few in terms of what we actually do. What I mean by that is there’s accounting providers out there, there’s software providers out there, there’s hosting solutions out there, but FMS is all wrapped in one, and we’re specific in the grocery industry. We do not have any direct competitor that does everything that we do for the grocery industry, but if you were to choose to host your servers with a company in New York or Los Angeles or overseas, you very well could. You could take pieces and go with different companies. We’re kind of a one-stop shop. What do you envision for the future of your industry? When we look at times of higher earnings and a good strong economy, people do tend to go back to the specialty world, and they like the service and the point-to-point contact. The younger generation though has grown up essentially in a bad economy, and they’ve gotten used to the Amazons and the online orderings. I do think in the long term we’re going to see more and more business shift to online and less brick and mortar, but I think there’s always going to be a place for it. It’s just going to be a matter of what size that business is. So, in five years, I would probably expect to see some more consolidation because of some degradation of sales in the traditional marketplace but not to the point that grocery is completely different.
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