With its immense size and rural location, Shady Maple Farm Market might seem immune to the rising number of grocery competitors in the more populous parts of Lancaster County.
Well, it’s not.
Lin Weaver, its CEO, said the 49-year-old supermarket — the county’s largest — had posted increases in annual revenue virtually every year until 2017 and 2018, when it flattened out at more than $40 million.
He blames the stagnation on the “huge” number of new stores opening on Shady Maple’s “local” turf, which stretches a staggering 50 miles from the store, a testament to its uniqueness as a destination that includes a popular smorgasbord restaurant next door.
Shady Maple also draws many customers from nearby states.
Weaver voiced confidence that Shady Maple’s time-tested assets — such as exceptional customer service and a deep assortment of made-from-scratch items — can make the supermarket’s annual revenue rise again.
But what Shady Maple doesn’t have are the deep pockets of its chain-store rivals to deliver that message to the shopping public as intensively as the chains do, he said.
“I still think there’s room for the independent supermarket. We just need to do our best to tell people our story, what makes us different than a chain store, what makes us unique and why it’s a better experience overall,” said Weaver.
“There are a lot of things that make an independent better than a chain store, but sometimes we don’t have the resources to get that story out like a chain store will. It’s like the best-kept secret, and that hurts us in the long run,” he said.
Mindful of that issue, Shady Maple in recent months has ramped up its social media efforts, special events and sales, and rolled out a loyalty campaign that rewards regular shoppers with free meals at the smorgasbord.
“We’re doing all kinds of new initiatives to make sure people don’t forget about us, to make sure we are a destination that people become loyal to, that we don’t fall off the radar,” said Weaver.
“We need both that loyal local and loyal distant shopper to be successful,” he added.
Shady Maple is the county’s biggest supermarket, as measured by space. Its 150,000-square-foot store exceeds the new Wegmans’ size by 30,000 square feet.
If the yardstick is size of workforce, though, the two stores are even.
Open six days a week, Shady Maple is fully staffed with 450 employees. Wegmans, open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, has 450 employees and is hiring, a Wegmans spokeswoman said.
But Wegmans, which opened in September, has the lead if the measure is revenue. According to trade publication Food Trade News, Wegmans’ cash registers are ringing at an annualized rate exceeding $50 million.
Weaver believes the fate of locally owned independent supermarkets like his has consequences for more than their shoppers and employees.
He sees independent stores of all kinds as a key to Lancaster County’s appeal to visitors.
“One of the reasons Lancaster County is such a wonderful destination for people around the world is its independents. Every time there’s less of them, it takes away from our uniqueness and what makes Lancaster County special,” said Weaver.