September 1, 2010

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The Grocer in 16 Neighborhoods

Harmons Continuing its Legacy of Quality and Value

Candace M. Little

September 1, 2010

With its 14th, 15th and 16th stores in progress, and an expected 500 jobs to add to the Utah economy, this Utah’s Own company is not only a local business itself, but it also promotes other Utah’s Own products. Harmons is a 78-year-old family-owned business in the hands of its third and fourth generations. Bob Harmon, vice president for the customer, says in order to understand Harmons now, it’s helpful to understand where it’s been.

Harmons first began when Bob’s grandparents—a young husband and wife (Jake and Irene Harmon)—sold produce from a fruit stand on 3300 South and Main Street in Salt Lake City. Harmon says hard work and the American Dream was infused into Jake and Jake’s siblings, many of whom started their own businesses. One of Jake’s younger brothers opened Utah’s first Kentucky Fried Chicken after meeting Colonel Sanders and tasting his chicken. The Harmon family quickly showed a knack for finding quality products and bringing them to the community.

But the business of doing just that didn’t come without adversity. Jack and Irene’s stand was demolished when a truck ran into the back half of the structure, but it didn’t keep them away from the grocery business for long and they built their first store, continually adding on throughout the years. When that store burned to the ground, the Harmon children drew upon their parents’ example of endurance and reopened, determined to continue serving the community and living out their parents’ legacy.

Bob Harmon grew up in the grocery business—one of his first memories of the store is riding inside a grocery basket while his brother pushed the cart through the aisles. Of course as both he and his brother got older, their role in the family business became a little more serious. Even with his early emersion to the world of produce and life as a grocer’s son, Harmon says he was still surprised by a few things. 

“I was blown away by all of the people it takes,” he says. “People think a store is a simple process—a supplier brings the food, the store stocks the shelves, and customers go and buy it—but it’s so much more than that, and what’s surprised me is how many people it actually takes who care enough to get your food to your table.”

And those caring people are exactly what Harmon says has made his grandfather’s store an ongoing success. “We’ve been taught that if you’re good to your employees and to your customers, they’ll be good to you—and we have great people at Harmons—the people running the store, employees and suppliers.”

About seven years ago, the company realized it needed to be different in order to compete with larger grocery companies. “We decided that difference needed to be in the value of our products,” Harmon says, “so we took our employees to Italy on a food tour. They came back with an experience and internalized it.” Exposing its employees to quality and, in some cases, unusual foods and experiences is something Harmon feels is important to the business’ success. “We offer $25 cheese, but we also offer cheese for $3.99. We aren’t the most expensive grocer and we’re not the least expensive—we’re right in the middle and we think that’s the perfect place to be.”

Harmons’ customers find value in fresh food—and therefore, Harmons does as well. “We want the home-life of our products to exceed what’s expected,” Harmon says.  “We’ve had products tested at the U and other places and know the shelf life. We like to cut that in half, to ensure once our customers get home, they still have a significant amount of freshness in them.”

One of the ways Harmons achieves freshness is buying local produce.

“You wouldn’t want to pay $2 a pound for peaches that don’t taste good,” says Harmon. “You won’t want to pay $1 for that matter. We get our produce from local farmers because we can get it the freshest that way.”

He says other ways they keep their offerings as fresh as possible are by fresh-packing candies, chocolates and nuts; making products on site, like artisan bread and other bakery items; and assembling fresh fruit and vegetable trays with ripe and nutrient-rich produce.

After being involved with the store for “forever,” Harmon says one thing he’s learned is to be open to change and willing to adapt to your customer’s needs.

He’s also learned that it is important to help the community that supports you.  “Harmons really believes in giving back to the community. Sure it looks good on a resume, but that’s not why we do it. I just feel it’s the right thing to do—you have to give back.”


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