Paul Lencioni doesn’t like talking about customer service.
The fourth-generation owner of Blue Goose Market, a small, independent grocer in Chicago’s western suburbs, tosses the “corporate speak,” instead focusing on people and how their purchases connect to their lives.
“When you’re running a local supermarket, you’re selling food to your family, your friends, your neighbors. You’re not nameless. You’re not faceless,” Lencioni said while seated at a two-top table in the store’s deli. “You have to be here, you have to earn it every day.”
That philosophy seems to work. Blue Goose, located in downtown St. Charles, Ill., will celebrate its 90th anniversary in 2018. Earlier this year, however, Progressive Grocer named it Outstanding Independent Grocer in the Center Store category, particularly for its commitment to customers.
Lencioni, who described the recognition as “humbling,” says he and his 100-employee team won’t rest on their laurels, especially since local, family-owned stores often face higher expectations from their customers — and neighbors.
“You have the opportunity to live up to those expectations and earn people’s trust and appreciation, but if you don’t, there’s no middle ground where they’ll think you’re fine,” he says.
On a Monday afternoon in early March, a steady flow of customers perused Blue Goose’s colorful produce section and visited the deli counter, where a variety of salads, spreads and side dishes were on display. Others wandered through tastefully-lit aisles in the center of the 30,000-sq.-ft. store.
While speaking with Candy Industry, Lencioni recognized the mother of a childhood friend, underscoring who Blue Goose serves and what they aim to do — providing that “amazing bite” or the “killer piece of meat” for Christmas, Lencioni says.
“I feel like we’re artists,” he says. “This is what we craft things on. We try and show the world something cool, something valuable, something beautiful.”
That applies to Blue Goose’s candy selection. While the store offers the supermarket standards and a mix of classics such as gummy worms, soft peppermints and fruit-shaped pressed dextrose candies, it also provides a variety of premium chocolate bars, including Endangered Species Chocolate, Perugina and Milk Boy, among others.
“When we’re looking for candy, we look for something interesting, creative, approachable, and balance that with the brands,” Lencioni says.
Comparing chocolate to artisan cheese, wine and craft beer, Lencioni says chocolate represents “love, happiness and comfort” for many customers, but its complexity also deserves elevation.
“If you don’t get chocolate, you don’t get food,” he says.
If there’s one thing the Lencionis get, it’s food. Lencioni’s great grandmother Annunciata — known as Nancy — opened the Blue Goose Fruit Store in the 200 block of St. Charles’ West Main St. in 1928. It survived the Great Depression and food rationing in World War II, expanding to include a meat market in 1946.
Nearly 20 years later, under guidance of Nancy’s son Vasco and daughter-in-law Germaine, Blue Goose opened a new store at First and Illinois Streets. It was three times larger than Nancy’s original fruit store, but it still wasn’t enough. A 1968 expansion added an in-house delicatessen and kitchen, allowing Blue Goose to offer freshly prepared foods to customers.
Continuing to evolve over the next decades, Blue Goose once again needed more space, and in 1995, underwent a $2.3-million renovation that also included a bakery.
Lencioni, who had been working for convenience store distributor Eby-Brown after a stint as Blue Goose’s assistant general manager, returned to own and run the store in 2012. Having gained experience in the corporate and finance worlds, Lencioni aimed to maintain Blue Goose’s commitment to quality while expanding the company’s footprint.
“It makes a lot of sense,” he says. “It’s the direction that we’re going in.”
Blue Goose looked to build a second store in a shopping plaza in nearby Batavia, Ill., but Lencioni and the owner of the plaza, Batavia Enterprises Inc., couldn’t come to a mutually beneficial agreement. They called off talks earlier this year.
However, Blue Goose hasn’t suspended plans to build another store. Lencioni said he’s discussing the possibility with other communities, and he hopes to settle on another location in the next few years.
In the meantime, Lencioni and his team will continue what Nancy started.
“My family heritage is tied up in here, and so much of who I am is because of what the Blue Goose is,” he says. “It’s in our DNA to do this and dig it.”