Families keep things fresh in local markets
Jeremy and Beth Nevins with daughter Olivia and sons Lucas (left) and Chase (right) at Siegel Bros. Marketplace in Mt. Kisco.
In an industry where large companies are purchased by even larger companies, how do small, independent food businesses survive? Luckily, our family-run food markets have figured out how to remain relevant and in business. Their secret? They go the extra mile, offering what the big guys can’t.
When Ben Conte’s grandfather opened Conte’s Fish Market in Mt. Kisco in 1952, he began a family business that is now run by the third and fourth generation. Conte and his sons, Dean and Rob, have expanded the fish market to include a restaurant, take-out, catering, and a regular presence at local farmers markets. The elder Conte’s reputation for selecting quality fish and seafood has even earned him a feature in The New York Times.
Reputation and longevity has also worked in Billy Fortin’s favor, but with a twist. While The Market at Pound Ridge, formerly Scott’s Corner Market, is a family business, Fortin’s family wasn’t always running the show. He began as an employee and worked his way up, eventually purchasing the business with a partner fourteen years later. When his partner retired in 2007, Fortin became the sole owner and now works alongside his wife, Lisa, a former visual merchandiser for The Gap and Nike, and their adult sons, Michael and Jason.
As newcomers, Jeremy and Beth Nevins quickly built a steady stream of regular customers at Siegel Bros. While Jeremy and his father opened and ran Grande Harvest Wines in Grand Central Terminal for twenty years, this is the first time he and his wife have worked together, opening Siegel Bros. Wine & Spirits in December 2016 and Siegel Bros. Marketplace in February 2017, both in Mt. Kisco.
While different, these three food markets have created similar philosophies and structure.
The Customer Comes First
Attending to the needs of the general population, as well as specific customer requests builds and maintains loyal customers who return week after week. Even when it’s unusual, they all believe the customer is always right.
“Each year, we sell two thousand turkeys for Thanksgiving,” says Billy Fortin. “We only sell fresh turkeys; I’ve never had one returned. But last year I had a customer return the carcass of turkey. She said it was dry and terrible, but in reality, she overcooked the turkey! I gave her credit for the turkey with my apologies because you can’t tell a customer she doesn’t know how to cook! That’s the kind of thing a chain store can’t do.”
Pleasing customers also includes recognizing that they will only shop local when those stores offer the right merchandise. All three markets provide a combination of organic foods, healthy options, and to-go meals prepared on-site.
Quality Is Key
Ben Conte is up before the sun to get the best fish. Lisa Fortin and her sons have introduced more high-end products to their store and gift shop. Siegel Bros. has customers who drive from the Bronx and Scarsdale to purchase their meats each week. Quality, they believe, sets them apart.
“The quality of the product has to be spot on,” says Jeremy Nevins. “You only have one chance to woo a customer—most people don’t give you a second chance. You have to make sure the quality is there every single time.”
For Ben Conte, that means a very early start to his day. “Every day, I wake up at 1:00 in the morning to go the Fulton Fish Market,” Conte explains. “I do my buying from 35 or 45 different wholesalers and shop around for the freshest fish. Probably 80 percent of the fish in the market comes from afar, so I want the stuff that’s had the shortest amount of time out of water and what’s in season.”
Divvying It Up
Each business has a similar structure when it comes to responsibilities and maintaining boundaries. All family members have specific jobs, ensuring that no one steps on each other’s toes. And, they all believe that work remains mostly at work, separating family time from their business.
For the Nevinses, Jeremy manages the stores on-site and Beth handles customer relations and event planning both in the store and from home. The Contes have Ben handling fish purchases and retail, Rob managing the restaurant, and Dean in charge of the farmers markets and catering. At The Market, Billy is still in charge, but Lisa handles the accounting, bookkeeping, and gift shop while Michael puts his culinary school education to work, and Jason serves as the “tech guy.”
Running a family business requires love, understanding and cooperation—something these local markets have all mastered.
GOOD BUSINESS According to FamilyBusinessCenter.com, what truly drives many family businesses is the sense of connection the owners and their families feel with the business, and the environment for innovation in family businesses improves when more generations are actively involved.