ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
The 19th century land-rush credo was “Go West, young man, go West.”
But in the 21st century, Dale and Melanie Franz decided to go east-by expanding Dale’s Supermarket Inc. into the east portion of the former Schaeffler building in Hillsboro.
At the first of the year, Dale announced expansion and remodeling plans after Total Image II closed its doors and 2,400 square feet of space became available in the building shared with Nancy’s Fashions.
“We basically needed to do this to compete in today’s market,” Dale said. “We were so limited on space before.”
The supermarket will celebrate its “Grand ReOpening” with a two-day open house from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 17, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 18.
Ray Franz, Dale’s father, originally operated a grocery store at 117 S. Main, where the former China Buffet is located. Franz Food Market opened in 1955 after Ray purchased it from Ben Wall, who owned Wall’s Food Market.
“Starting in the seventh grade, I worked there after school and on Saturdays,” Ray said about Wall’s.
In 1959, Paul Ediger joined Ray, and they opened Paul & Ray’s Supermarket at the current location, in the first block of West Grand.
Ray bought out Ediger in 1983, and a young Dale began working full time in his father’s store that same year. He was 23 years old.
Tucked under his belt, Dale had a diploma in business with a major in accounting from Emporia State University.
“When I first started, I was in the grocery department,” Dale said. “And then, when dad bought out Paul, I took over all the dairy, frozen and produce departments.”
Melanie worked as a checker, beginning in 1990. Nine years later, the couple purchased the business from Ray-who still works at his son’s store-and the name changed to Dale’s Supermarket Inc.
The market operation remained status quo, and the family business continued in the same tradition established by Ray.
But the idea of expanding was on the back burner.
“We’d been thinking about it a little bit,” Dale said. “Then, the building became available, and things just basically went from there.”
Contractors were Jantz Construction from the Durham/Tampa area. But Melanie’s father, Kenneth Decker, was also invaluable during the remodeling, Dale said.
“Melanie’s dad basically worked the whole time from when we started clearing out and gutting things to helping with the construction guys.”
The old section of the market is located in 3,600 square feet of space, and that brings the current total area of Dale’s to 6,000 square feet of grocery store.
Expanding into the east side of the building has opened new opportunities to have more freezer and cooler space, more items on the shelves, new products and, in the expanded area, wider aisles.
“So much of the products anymore are frozen foods,” Dale said. “And we were so limited on frozen-food space.”
In the past, they were confined to stocking a half-case of product on the floor-room shelves. That situation has changed with more in-store space.
“Now, we don’t have near the product in the back room that we have to keep going back to find,” Dale said.
“That’s because we can now stock a shelf with a full case. When it goes low, you put another case on, and you’re done. This has been a time saver.”
Thanks to the warehouse staff at Affiliated Foods Midwest, new products line the shelves at Dale’s.
“There are many, many new products,” Dale said.
The warehouse staff used computer programs to determine the best-selling items in the grocery industry today, and the Franzes decided what would best suit their customers.
The warehouse staff put shelf tags up-with codes to order items for the store.
“If we’d had that item in the past, and it didn’t sell for us, we’d pull it and try something different,” Dale said. “Or, we’d have people around here asking for stuff, and we’d do that, too.”
And old favorites are still available at the store-that hasn’t changed.
The newly remodeled area was designed for wider aisles, but the older west-section shelving remains in place.
“People will say, ‘Boy, you even stretched and widened everything,'” Dale said. “But all we did was take the clutter out of the aisles, and it widened the (old) aisles by not actually moving the shelving.”
Dale and Melanie gained a new spacious office in the additional space-a big change from the former 6-foot by 4-foot office space near the front door. An ice machine now occupies that spot.
“It was really closed in,” Melanie said of the old office. “So this is nice.”
Business computers were once housed in the building basement. Those will now be kept in the new office that also has two large desks used by the couple.
Other improvements that surfaced during the expansion include remodeled bathrooms for customers and staff, and a new break room in the second-story area.
“This store never had a break room,” Dale said. “It was Melanie’s idea. They had that done before we even started clearing out the rest of it.”
And the bathroom facelift includes such perks as new counters, flooring, sinks and ceiling fans.
Looking back on the construction process, Dale said it was no surprise that they ran into the unexpected along the way.
“We’re working with a 100-year-old building,” he said.
“The overall structure of the building is great. But back then, they didn’t have power saws and screw guns or anything like that. Once we got the old stuff torn up and cleaned out, then it started going smoother.”
The timing of the remodeling completion coincides with another major event for a second grocery store in Hillsboro-the local IGA will soon move from its downtown location to a new facility north of town.
“It’s kind of ironic how for so many years, you had the exact same stores,” Dale said. “And now, all of a sudden, boom-in a community like this-we have the expansion, and they have the new business.”
Dale said he hopes both ventures will encourage more people to shop locally.
“Everybody asks how it’s going to affect us,” he said. “Until they open up, we have no idea what’s going to happen.”
When asked if the new expansion was a good sign of a local business surviving the ebb and flow of the economy, Dale said he is cognizant of the competition he faces with bigger grocery-chain stores.
The key to Dale’s success in a competitive grocery-store market is personal service and a fresh-meat department, the couple said.
“We don’t pre-pack everything in trays and plastic wrap ahead of time,” Dale said.
Melanie said, “And we know most of our customers by their names. That makes a difference.”
Planning an open house to celebrate the expansion project, the couple will have drawings for such items as a table-top charcoal grill and gift certificates.
“And we’ll have refreshments-ice cream samples and popcorn,” Dale said.
The compliments have already started pouring in.
“We’ve had very good reactions from customers-they’re excited about it,” Dale said about response to new products and wider aisles.
“We really appreciate all the comments from our customers, the encouragement they gave us through the whole thing and the support they’ve given us,” he said.
“We really appreciate our loyal customers and all the customers who have been coming in.”