Looking Within for Strategy and Growth

As the Hispanic population in this country continues its steady growth, many retailers have opened shelf space to products catering to this demographic. Others, like So-Cal-based Northgate González Markets, have carved out a clear niche for themselves in the grocery landscape and staked their claim.

Oscar González,
co-owner, co-president and COO, Northgate González Markets

What began as a small family store on Anaheim Boulevard in the 1980s has grown into a strong regional player. Northgate operates 40 stores in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties and employs about 5,500 associates. The store has evolved with its customers and their families, who are now second- and even third-generation Mexican-Americans, offering more convenience foods along with more traditional products.

The family-owned grocer focuses on core values like hard work, humility, respect and integrity to be sure the business stays on track. Co-presidents and co-owners Oscar and Miguel González are committed to investing in their employees, especially in the area of education.

Oscar Gonzalez, co-owner, co-president and chief operating officer, believes the investment pays off in the ability to draw from internal resources, maintaining the strong corporate culture and keeping the ranks well-trained and engaged.

"It's common in the food industry to promote from within because you get better engagement," explains Oscar. "The best in class really follows this model. Whenever we consider growth, we consider growth of people. We plan ahead, looking over the next three years at how many stores we plan to open and making sure we have the talent. Sometimes we decide not to open a store because I'm not ready with the talent I need."

Northgate works with the Western Association of Food Chains (WAFC) and enrolls potentially management-bound prospects in WAFC's Retail Management Certificate program. Graduates include about a dozen senior-level execs, and more than 500 employees have completed the course. The retailer also operates a robust internal education program that focuses on skill development and leadership.

In fact, more than 90 percent of managers have worked their way up from positions ranging from cashier to box clerk.

Miguel González recently told The Orange County Register: "We tell our employees that we want to grow, and we want to grow with our people, and the only way to be ready for that challenge is if they prepare better. My greatest satisfaction is when I see someone who started as a box person, and now they are a store director."