“Your Choice for Better Value”
Business View Caribbean interviews Anthony Bousquet, Managing Director of Glace Supermarket, for our focus on Business Excellence in St. Lucia.
Glace Supermarket & General Store has been serving Saint Lucians with pride for four decades. Operating from a single, large location featuring groceries, baked goods, hardware, fuel, auto accessories, and general merchandise, Glace (pronounced “Glass”) is known for offering one-stop, better-value shopping options. And their delicious specialty bread is legendary; baked fresh every day to high standards following the celebrated recipe developed by the family.
The owners’ philosophy of being in business for the benefit of fellow members of society is reflected, not only in the everyday low prices, but also in the company’s support of community projects, initiatives, and clubs. Customers are invited to “visit our stores, become part of the Glace family, and see why Glace will always be ‘Your Choice for Better Value.’”
General Manager of Glace Supermarket, Anthony Bousquet, talks about the evolution of the company: “Glace was started in 1977 by Greg Glace. In 1981, Girard Glace (Greg’s brother) and his wife, Veronica, acquired the shares of the company and are still the owners. Today, it is essentially a General Store – the main driver is the supermarket, it also has a bakery, a fuel station, hardware, wholesale meats and drinks – there is a lot going on at one location.”
Glace Supermarket had expanded over the years, at its peak employing 150 workers throughout four locations. But since 2008, the combination of tough economic headwinds and strong competition from regional conglomerates has seen the company engage in a lot of consolidation. Today, Glace operates a thriving business, solely from its original large facility in Marisule, Gros Islets, with about 80 employees. In 1977, that first store was only around 1,500 square feet. It began as an auto accessories location, then added rental cars. Over the years, the car rental section was dropped, and the store has since grown through a process of accretion to 25,000 sq. ft. of building space. Customers come primarily from the north of St. Lucia, where 70 percent of the island population lives. The company sees a fair amount of tourist trade, but mostly for the purchase of alcohol, especially local rums, that are available in the supermarket.
“The bread has been a huge draw over the years,” Bousquet boasts, with good reason. “The bakery is the soul of the business. When it started off in the early 1980s, the bread and the cakes were being baked by Mrs. Veronica Glace at her own home. To this day, we have the distinction of baking preservative-free bread. I believe we are one of the few, if not the only one, on the island who follows that philosophy. Our ingredient base is also better, from the perspective that we use better quality, more expensive ingredients. We’ve focused over the years on our bakery being able to produce exclusive preservative-free bread, which is widely regarded as the best on St. Lucia. And it smells absolutely wonderful when you walk into the store.”
In 2014, Glace Supermarket – the bakery division – had gone into partnership with a regional company, and the bread was being marketed under the Wonder Bakery logo in St. Lucia. But last year, Glace reacquired the bakery, rehired their previous bakers, and restarted that portion of the business. Bousquet reports, “We’re keeping the original ingredients, the original methodology, and the original recipes, and it’s going great. The feedback has been tremendous. The grocery division certainly brings in more revenue, but the bakery would be, by far, the most profitable part of our business, right now.”
The hardware, auto accessories, and gas station are all located on the same site as the supermarket and bakery but are separate divisions of the company. What’s interesting, according to Bousquet, is that when Glace first tied the supermarket to the fuel station, even though it’s a popular concept in the U.S. and Canada, today, the model had not yet been implemented in those countries, back then. He notes, “Now we have Walmart and Sam’s Club engaged in it, but at the time we introduced it in the 1980s, the model wasn’t done elsewhere. We were kind of original when it came to that merger of businesses.”
Glace’s major competitor is a regional conglomerate that Bousquet says, “earns approximately $8 billion EC (Eastern Caribbean) per year; that’s huge when compared to our average $18-$20 million EC range.” (1 US dollar converts to approx. 2.7 EC dollars). Glace has three ways to counter the competition. First and foremost, their signature bread must be a differentiating factor. One may argue that the partnership, where the bread was marketed throughout the island, was probably not in Glace’s best interests. But the general philosophy within the company, now, is that their bread is the means to battle the competition.
“The business environment and competitive landscape have changed significantly,” Bousquet explains. ‘This requires new ways of thinking. Glace consists of several types of businesses which call for different approaches to recovery and growth. Some parts may call for innovation and agility while others for a greater focus on operational efficiency and stability. Therefore, the second means of combating the competition involves Glace engaging in greater introspection – a more ardent examination of the various profit centers within the company. These profit centers would then be run as quasi stand-alone businesses which would allow Glace to survive and thrive in the current business environment by employing more targeted strategies.”
Here’s a fun and unusual item of note: certain aspects of baking are price-controlled by the government in St. Lucia – more specifically, two particular types of bread. Pan bread is priced at a certain weight. The more popular size (called large pan bread) costs five EC dollars, while Creole bread (a small bread weighing approximately two ounces that must have two pointed ends) has a definite price attached to it, as well. These two anchor prices influence the price of all other breads.
To keep abreast of the news in their different industry sectors, Glace Supermarket is a member of the St. Lucia Bakers Association and the Petroleum Dealers Association. As for marketing, Bousquet admits, “Our company is in a transition phase. We have a Facebook presence and are thinking of going exclusively through social media, and actually focusing especially on the bread. Culturally, as a company, we’re trying to decide which way is best to move forward. Over time, we’ve been engaged in different industries as a means of expansion, including opening a hotel that we ran for a decade and divested in 2018. But, recently, we’ve pulled back and decided to consolidate and focus on our main areas of strength – our supermarket and bakery – and use this as a catapult to grow the company.”
As a long-time family business on St. Lucia, Glace Supermarket and its owners definitely do outreach in the community, but you won’t find out about it online or in the press. It’s done quietly, usually, on a one-to-one basis, although they do periodically provide bread and contributions to some groups that look after more disadvantaged people. Bousquet reports, “The owners have really been focused on assisting people. When asked about it, Mr. Glace would say, ‘I didn’t get into this business to make a lot of money. All I’d like to do is make enough to pay my staff, pay my bills, and have a little left over. I don’t think people should be in business just for themselves, they should try to help as many people as possible.’ This philosophy has driven our company for years, and the assistance has been primarily on an individual basis. For instance, helping someone who came to us because their house had been blown down in a hurricane or a storm, and they really needed assistance. That’s how the company reaches out. Some argue, maybe to our detriment, that we don’t get the biggest bang or the most mileage from it, but the owners really just like to help out.”
With that philosophy, it’s not surprising that most of the employees have been with Glace Supermarket for decades. It’s truly a family company with heart and soul… and the best tasting bread in St. Lucia!
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AT A GLANCE
Who: Glace Supermarket
What: Supermarket, bakery, fuel station, and General Store
Where: Marisule, Gros Islet, St. Lucia