Cirillo’s IGA Market
Cirillo’s IGA Market (Cirillo’s) is an intimate family-owned and -operated business with two grocery stores on Long Island, in Amagansett and Bellport, N.Y. Frances Cirillo, president and CEO of Cirillo’s, has owned the company for nearly three decades and had worked in the food retail business for many years before she and her husband opened their own IGA locations. “As a woman, I see it not only as an owner, but as a shopper and a housewife,” says Frances. “We’ve made it really personal, and we have lots of appreciation for our customers.”
Frances and her late husband, Joseph, purchased the Amagansett location in the early ’80s after years of experience managing grocery stores in the area. When Joseph fell sick, Frances stepped in to take over the complete operation of Cirillo’s.
“We went through a tenuous time,” she says of the period her husband was struggling with a brain tumor. “He said, ‘Sell the business!’ but I just couldn’t. It was his legacy. I learned on the go how to run a company and all that goes with it; and to everyone’s surprise, eight years later the stores are still here. We’ve gone through some major changes and improvements.”
A Family Affair
Despite tragedy Cirillo’s continued to prosper. Frances’ daughters, Trisha and Alesha, as well as her daughter-in-law, Delisia, joined the corporate staff at Cirillo’s to help carry on Joseph’s legacy. The staff now includes between 85 and 110 people.
“About 90 percent of our employees have been with us for more than 20 years,” says Frances. “They have been like a family and I am honored to have them in my employ.” Frances believes that the success of her business would have been impossible without the loyalty, support and hard work of her managerial team as well as her secretary, Regina Euler, for whom she is ever grateful.
The family philosophy doesn’t end with Cirillo’s employees. “We try to keep an immaculate, friendly atmosphere,” explains Frances. The items in the store are comparably more expensive than what her customers could be buying from a big-box grocer, but the company makes up that value in service. “We customize cuts and sizes of meat,” she explains. “Our produce is special and we’ll prepare it however our customers like. If a customer asks for something we don’t have, we do our best to bring it in.”
The family maintains similar positive relationships with its suppliers. “Bozzuto’s Inc. in Connecticut has been our wholesaler since day one in 1975,” explains Frances. And Bozzuto’s is still the small company’s main supplier today. As another family business, the wholesaler is owned by Michael and Jayne Bozzuto, who Frances says “have been invaluable in service and guidance since I assumed my new role of the company. Jim Levy is my service rep at Bozzuto’s. He has been a constant source of encouragement and advice.”
A Fresh Look
The economy has been tough for many retailers, and even more so for small family markets like Cirillo’s. Much of the business’ profits go toward union expenses, which Frances believes are obsolete in her business.
“We already offer our employees all of the benefits that the unions give them,” she explains. It is important to Frances that her long-term employees are rewarded financially for their efforts, and she periodically raises salaries. The utilities and insurance for her small business are also growing increasingly expensive, making it more difficult every year to compete with the bigger chains.
These big chains are inching closer and closer to Cirillo’s. “There’s talk of a Whole Foods opening up nearby,” she says. “People don’t realize that not everything at Whole Foods is organic or natural. For example, we sell the same blueberries, but we do it for a lot cheaper.” Cirillo’s small size ensures better quality control and Frances makes researching sources and nutritional quality a priority. The business has a system in place to track where foods are packaged and regularly inspects how well foods are packaged.
Frances is doing her best to fight back against the challenges in the market, which she doesn’t believe is improving at any noticeable rate. Cirillo’s, however, will continue to make some changes to better serve its loyal customers, as Frances measures her company’s success in the happiness of her customers and employees. “Every single department is important,” she explains.
That being said, the Amagansett store is getting a makeover. “We’re making it bigger and better,” says Frances. “We’ve already repainted the building and added special canvas awnings to make it visually unique.”
On the inside, the store is getting a redesign with new graphics as well as an extended deli, produce and meat departments. Cirillo’s will also have an expanded offering of organic products. The business has brought in several local growers, and Frances says “many more are fighting to come in.” She hopes to supply food from 10 local growers to feature seasonal produce after the expansion.
The company is making changes outside of traditional groceries, too. Cirillo’s has completely eliminated plastic grocery bags from its stores. “We do what we can to reduce our carbon footprint,” says Frances. “Even though paper bags are a huge part of our costs, it is still the right thing to do.”
The Amagansett store has added a Kodak photo machine, which has proven very popular as well as a Redbox DVD machine where customers can easily rent videos for a little more than $1 per night. “We’re really just looking at steady growth,” says Frances of the future of Cirillo’s. “We’re adding whatever our customers need to the very best of our ability.”
As if she didn’t have enough on her plate, Frances considers herself an amateur photographer. “I’ve been able to sell many of my pieces,” she says. Customers and friends have suggested bringing her photography into Cirillo’s. “Can you imagine?” she suggests modestly. “A gallery in the store.”
Mutual loyalty between suppliers, the Cirillo’s team and loyal customers is what keeps Cirillo’s going. “Our service is top-notch,” says Frances. “So we keep up with the competition.” Cirillo’s IGA Market brings customers a personal touch unparalleled by larger supermarket chains that guarantees Frances and her team a long, sustainable future.