Gordy’s Market, now a six-store chain after downsizing from its previous 26-store holdings, has promised customers and communities that it will return to its roots in coming years. On Friday, Dec. 29, members of Gordy’s administration told the Herald what customers can expect in 2018, and talked about the receivership process that began in August.
“This receivership caught me off guard,” said Jeff Schafer, son of Gordy’s Market founder Gordy Schafer and CEO of the current six stores. “We (had) it dropped in our lap. We (had) people trying to understand. I came back (to the company) March 1. … I thought we could have it all wrapped by July 1.” Jeff Schafer had initially retired in November 2016, and his brother David Schafer was then appointed CEO.
Closure came months later, in December in Chippewa County Court, after Judge James Isaacson approved the sale of six stores — including downtown Chippewa Falls and Lake Wissota locations — to members of the Schafer family.
Those Schafer family members include Jeff and Dan Schafer, who will act as CEO and COO, respectively. Third-generation Schafers also remain involved in the stores’ administration: Nick Schafer spearheads merchandising and promotions, and Justine Willkom oversees human resources, social media and accounting.
Some second-generation family members, including former CEO David Schafer, will not be involved in the company moving forward, Jeff Schafer said.
However, for Jeff Schafer, it’s not about his family, it’s about the community. “We have really amazing people on the front lines,” he said. “Why those six stores? Ladysmith, Barron, Chetek … those feel like home. I love Cornell. You feel so warm in these communities. We let them down … and when I saw that, I knew where I wanted to be.”
The company growing smaller has disguised blessings, Willkom said. “We wear many hats … now that we’re a smaller company. We’re excited. We know everybody at these six stores. They’re home for us.”
Jeff Schafer attributes the past five months of 2017 to “lack of communication” with both family members and the chain’s wholesalers, but said the chain is working to resolve those relationships.
The chain has apologized to its customers using social media. Jeff Schafer said abruptly closing several stores was not the company’s decision — but at that point, all decisions were in the hands of receiver Michael Polsky. “It was all about the receivership. We entered (the receivership) willingly … we had no other choice at the time. We wanted to work with Spartan Nash.”
Gordy’s and Spartan Nash, the wholesaler that brought a lawsuit against the chain in August and which eventually worked with the family to repurchase six stores, continue to have a relationship, Jeff Schafer said: The wholesaler carries Gordy’s private brand, and the two companies have daily contact.
In its six stores, Gordy’s has retained over 400 employees, Willkom said.
Jeff Schafer is thankful the community has welcomed the company back. “People are coming up to us, hugging us, people are so happy to see us. But it’s not about us, it’s about the (customers). We’re going to be back and better than before.”
Benefits that Gordy’s customers have previously enjoyed — including Pump Perks — may also be on the way. Jeff Schafer is eager to bring those programs back: “I like everything done yesterday,” he said with a laugh. “We’re working on gas rewards. That’s a big part of who we are.”
Other programs are returning, including Direct Your Label, senior discounts on Mondays and incentives to use reusable grocery bags, Willkom said.
Customers might also see changes within the stores themselves. “Saving Zones” — an aisle of spotlighted sale products — will be seen at all six stores, Nick Schafer said.
Finally, the decision to keep the family name of Gordy’s Market was a no-brainer for Jeff Schafer. “It’ll be 52 years in 2018. We’ve had one bad year out of those 52 years. I hope people can forgive us. … I’m not changing the name, because of that fact. We want to have 50 more years.
“If you’re sincere, you can look in the mirror, say I’m sorry and move forward. We’ll be back, strong, and taking care of our communities.”