Joe Shemirani, now owner and president of Barons Market, started his career as a civil engineer. Today, he heads a small specialty market with four locations in the San Diego area.
Joe had been working for eight years at a Maryland-based company when he and his wife visited the West Coast. The couple fell in love with San Diego and decided to move across country. Joe first opened a wine store, which quickly became a success. The company was ranked as the No. 2 wine seller in San Diego, but Joe wasn’t happy. “I wasn’t too proud of just being in the wine business,” he explains. “That was about the time I decided to get out of the business.”
An idea struck Joe to open a market. He realized many people hated the idea of food shopping in large, national chain supermarkets. On average, these box stores have between 30 and 50 aisles with some 50,000 items.
“If my family wants to grocery shop, where would they want to go,” Joe says, explaining his reasoning. “I wanted to create a place where you could go and do your grocery shopping, at a real value, in 10 to 15 minutes.”
Therefore, Joe jumped on the idea. In 1992 the first of four Barons Market locations opened with approximately seven aisles and a smaller selection of an estimated 9,000 items. Joe’s goal from the beginning was to offer gourmet and organic products, things one can’t necessarily find elsewhere, and at prices 20- to 30-percent lower than large supermarkets.
“It relies on the fact that customers trust us to do the selection for them,” says Joe. “The idea is to keep it simple. People don’t have the time to cut coupons, look for sales and shop for an hour or an hour and a half.”
Creating a One-stop Gourmet Shop
Barons Market may carry some of the highest quality specialty products, but Joe kept in mind customers should be able to find everything needed in his market. With a limited number of items on the store’s shelves, it requires store managers and upper-level management to assess each and every item.
Every Thursday afternoon, Joe meets with managers, supervisors, office staff and buyers alike at the company’s home office to talk about potential products. The group discusses feedback from customers on products carried and items they’d like to see, as well as testing new items to decide if the market should add it to its shelves.
Joe explains this is the best way for Barons Market to be stocked with the finest selection of high-quality products. The team’s discussion includes grocery foods, produce, deli items, bulk products, bakery offerings, beer and wine selection, as well as home products, such as cleaners, beauty items and kitchen supplies.
Rachel Shemirani, Joe’s daughter and marketing manager for Barons Market, adds it isn’t just about the products during the selection process. According to Rachel, the company wants to offer products for lower prices to customers, meaning negotiating a wholesale price. Often, the company does this by going directly to suppliers and cutting out the middlemen like distributors, who often inflate the price for their own commission.
“When you’re buying from local farms or businesses, you can cut down on transportation costs and we can negotiate really good deals,” Rachel says. Even when Barons Market is working with companies from the East Coast, the buyers negotiate, keeping customers’ budgets in mind.
“We go to smaller companies,” says Joe. “And we don’t accept any money for shelf allotment. Moreover, we try to help them reduce their overhead so in turn they can give us lower prices.”
Joe goes on to provide an example of some organic apples the stores have in stock. “The organic apples we have are less than $1 per pound,” he says. “Organic is hard to buy on a budget, but it also doesn’t have to be double or triple the actual price.”
While Joe’s family is involved in the business, he considers his staff and customers part of his family, as well. “My office is above one of the stores,” says Joe. “When I go get a coffee downstairs, I can’t help but talk to our customers. It’s the biggest reward when I get feedback from them, or a call or an email.”
Recently, Barons Market has been praised for its attention to customers’ needs. Rachel reports the company called in customers who eat a gluten-free diet to help identify quality products. “We don’t eat gluten-free, but they do,” she says. “We asked them what they liked, if they’d buy it and for how much.”
When Barons Market identified specific gluten-free products to carry, the market didn’t stock the products among other items. Instead, each Barons Market has a specific gluten-free section to make shopping easy.
“We have people in tears thanking us for the fact it is all in one area,” says Rachel. “One customer used to spend three hours shopping in the supermarket and reading every label, because her son has celiac disease.”
Barons Market also caters to customers on the go with a gourmet sandwich offering and the recent addition of salad bars. Joe points out the salad bars contain some of the freshest ingredients and items one may not normally see on a regular salad bar, such as roasted artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, sweet petite peppers or Roland Golden Berries.
Part of the Community
Each Barons Market location is part of the neighborhood’s fabric. In turn, Joe and Rachel make sure the market plays a role in the community. Joe estimates donations and events in the community make up 80 percent of the company’s marketing budget. In 21 years Barons Market has likely contributed to more than 100 different charities and organizations.
“We feel it helps with our customers’ overall experience,” says Rachel. “People come in and shop and say, ‘Thank you for donating to my son’s baseball team.’”
“We get pleasure out of contributing to the community,” Joe adds. “It’s not about the food business. It’s about the people business.”
Joe is keeping that in mind as he looks for opportunities to expand his business. Within the next few years, he foresees opening more locations; however, it has to be a combination of good real estate in the right community.
As Joe continues to look at potential real estate for other locations, Barons Market continues to make marks in its communities and more people are saying, “I got this at Barons Market.” With Joe and Rachel leading the way, Barons Market is sure to continue offering an excellent experience for years to come.
For more information about Baron’s Market, please visit: www.baronsmarket.com.