How Delaware Supermarkets Inc. is Leading the Way for Employee Relations
Here’s how Kenny Family ShopRites create a positive, nurturing workplace and provide employees with unique career opportunities.
As one of the largest supermarket chains in Delaware, Delaware Supermarkets Inc./Kenny Family ShopRite maintains a commitment not just to quality for its customers, but to its employees as a great place to work.
As an embodiment of that philosophy, the company strives to foster new talent through promoting associates from within the stores’ ranks by identifying those interested in moving up and providing those who qualify with a full range of training designed to foster success. Gina Martinez, safety coordinator for Delaware Supermarkets Inc./Kenny Family ShopRite, and Philip Mugo, perishable assistant store manager for the Four Seasons ShopRite, are two examples of how people from any background can find a rewarding career and advancement opportunities through this locally owned and operated grocery chain.
A decade ago, Gina Martinez was wrapping up a nine-month treatment program at the Crest Outreach Center, a residential program for those who have abused drugs or alcohol administered by the Delaware Department of Corrections, and she was looking for work. She had applied for a reentry program through the Delaware Department of Horticulture through which she was placed in a job in the floral department ShopRite.
“It was up to us to get hired directly from the company. I just told the store manager I was interested, and he helped facilitate that process,” she says. “I ended up getting hired as a part-time cashier and they placed me at the Concord Pike store.”
She did her best to be an exemplary employee, demonstrating timeliness, dedication to the job and a willingness to take on extra tasks, even volunteering to serve as union shop steward and taking on the unpaid role of a safety captain at the store.
But during her work release, she violated the rule forbidding stops between the residential facility and work and was subsequently sentenced to 10 more days in an intensive prison program and had to start the treatment program over again. Upon her release, she was motivated to turn her life around.
“I was determined to change everything [about my life] by action only,” she says. “I was determined that I was going to do in my life the complete opposite of what I’d done.”
Four and half years later, Martinez had risen to full-time manager of the Concord Pike store’s floral department, and by 2016, Ben Simons, then head of IT and safety for Kenny Family ShopRite, asked if she’d be interested in a safety position working as his assistant. She readily accepted.
“Together, Ben and I turned the company around for workers comp, general liability, we have saved millions of dollars with what’s known today as our Safety Bonus Behavior Modification Program,” she says. “I couldn’t have felt more comfortable in a position.”
Kenny Family ShopRites has it made it a company hallmark to hire ex-offenders, those in active addiction recovery and transitional housing, as well as those with disabilities or who have been homeless.
“The company looks at where you are, not necessarily where you came from or how I grew up. All they knew is that I came from the Crest Program,” she says.
Today, Martinez is pursuing a degree in occupational health and safety to support her title and serves on the board of directors of Friendship House, a transitional residential facility for former offenders where she lived for a time after leaving the Crest Program. Kenny Family ShopRite continues to support the work of ex-offenders and those in recovery by employing 10 percent of Friendship House’s residents.
“When I look back 10 years ago it’s nothing shy of a miracle,” she says. “I jumped on the chance that I was given. It was so refreshing that I was able to interview with ShopRite. No matter where you’re from, you’re not judged, and I think that’s what motivated me to do better. Those second chances, they’re just so important to have these days.”
Philip Mugo was a master of business administration student at the University of Delaware when he had his first interview for a part-time position with Kenny Family ShopRite, so naturally he wore a suit. When it was over, the interviewer jokingly suggested he wouldn’t need to dress up that much for work. “I said, ‘That’s good, because I can’t wait to get out of this thing,’” he says now, having risen from a deli clerk to the role of assistant store manager for perishables at the Four Seasons store.
Mugo admits that back in 2004 his aspiration was not to use his MBA to work in the supermarket business. But thanks to the forward thinking and vision of the company, Mugo found not only a place to earn a living, but also a workplace that would help him grow.
“The company obviously had the vision. They said, ‘You come in, you learn the store and how we operate, and there are opportunities if you want to grow with us,’” Mugo says.
Kenny Family ShopRites has historically emphasized how education, more responsibility and flexible scheduling can accelerate an employee’s path to full-time work and has supported education through its tuition reimbursement program and reduced time in training roles.
In 2004, with a young child and a wife working as a nurse, “It worked for me because of the scheduling. I would do my classes, then go to ShopRite and she would go to her job on the 3-11 shift,” he says. “We were always able to cover home and work at the same time,” which led to a better work/life balance and almost no need for them to rely on daycare.
As his MBA graduation approached in 2006, Mugo began looking for full-time work where he could utilize his degree, receiving several attractive offers from banks based in Wilmington. When he visited Kenny with the intention of leaving his ShopRite job, Kenny countered with his own offer. “He gave me an offer that none of these other places could match. So that’s when I really saw the opportunity in an industry that a lot of people don’t know about.”
Coming in with his level of education essentially cut the time it took for him to rise from deli clerk to his current position, perishable assistant manager at Four Seasons, which he’s held since 2013—in half, Mugo says. Plus, the job appealed to his hands-on nature and ability to relate to others more than a desk job at a bank would.
“They saw that I had the potential, that I could connect with the company, that I picked things up quickly,” he says. “Is it challenging? Yes, it’s very challenging, but I have the capability to understand and do the job.”