Teaneck﹘Yossi Hollander once dreamt of becoming a chef, but that was put on hold after a down-to-earth discussion with an administrator at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). They told him he needed six months of experience in the food industry before beginning a program with CIA. To get that experience, Hollander found a job in a wholesale meat processing facility, but instead of leaving after his six months ended, he stayed on for another ten years.
Five years ago Hollander took his knowledge of wholesale food and groceries and opened Aron’s Kissena Farms in Kew Gardens Hills, Queens. With that successful grocery store opening, Hollander further expanded his reach when, last year, he opened Cedar Market on Cedar Lane, in Teaneck, NJ.
The love of food Hollander cultivated early on in his career is still a big part of what he brings to Cedar Market. “Food is still the passion that drives everything,” he said.
Hollander said that a customer-centric supermarket should bring quality and freshness without marking up the price, and then pass savings along to the consumer. In addition to providing quality products, Hollander ensures variety throughout the store. “We try to get the best and the most we can into the space we have,” he added.
Cedar Market is designed to be a place where the customer can find many of the same items they might look for in a chain store, a one-stop shopping location, but with personalized service and the option to special order. Hollander’s strategy is that customer service is key to setting anything apart from the competition, even the competition outside the kosher consumer. Because of this, he invested in employees equipped to greet every customer and ask if they need assistance, nuances which can make a big difference in customer sentiment.
Hollander also believes customer feedback is an important part of a successful customer experience. As such, he created multiple avenues for customers to share how they feel about their experience, and encourages both positive and negative feedback. Vehicles for feedback include verbally in store, e-mail, as well as through social channels like Facebook and Twitter. Hollander said social media is a “powerful tool,” and said he has used social media contests and giveaways not only to solicit feedback, but to promote brand awareness, and keep Cedar Market at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
Even with every effort, businesses encounter their share of unhappy feedback. How a business responds to feedback impacts the trust a customer has toward future shopping experiences. For example, Hollander received considerable communications about the state of Cedar Market’s chickens when he first opened. Hollander had initially contracted with a poultry supplier who provided chicken for a competitive price, but with many customers writing in to express dissatisfaction with their appearance, Hollander addressed this feedback by switching suppliers. Now the chickens come in cleaner and fresher: It is on the shelf within 24 hours of slaughtering. “The voice of the customer means a lot to us,” Hollander said.
Hollander’s advice to anyone looking to start a business is to do extensive research and know the risks and challenges involved. Hollander searched and planned for almost two years before opening Cedar Market in August 2013. Even with all the research and planning, unexpected difficulties often occur. Hollander recounted unexpected delays as part of his process in opening the store.
However, Hollander said that Teaneck set itself apart as a pro-business environment; everyone was helpful and forthcoming with assistance. Holdups, including a major leak in the basement of the store leading to the electrical panel, delayed the opening. The electricity had to be turned off in order to prevent a fire. Without power, there was no inventory, no refrigeration, and no opening. Eventually the Lieutenant Governor’s office came in and helped move the process along, but that delay set back the opening of the store despite all the preparation.
The early years of any business are risky, and Hollander acknowledged that the next two years are more about keeping his head above water than about seeing a real profit. (The sacrificing of profits for growth is a common strategy employed by companies such as Amazon.) Hollander credits the early success of his store with the fact that Cedar Market has made an effort to become a part of the community; more than just a place to buy groceries. The store participated in and sponsored several recent community events, including Yeshivat Noam’s Color Run. They also served free barbeque as part of Cedar Lane’s Memorial Day celebrations. “If people are coming to Cedar Lane for the Memorial Day attractions, let’s feed them free lunch,” Hollander recounted.
In order to further set Cedar Market apart from other supermarkets in the area, Hollander brought some “out of the box,” unique ideas to Teaneck as well. Nachum Segal hosted his radio show from Cedar Market; first, for the grand opening, then for a Pre-Pesach show, and Nachum Segal and Cedar Market collaborated for the First-Ever Kosher Super Bowl Halftime Show, which took place in the Meadowlands in January. Another unique venture at Cedar Market included a visit from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his wife Calista. Even in the middle of a snowstorm, it was a positive and well-received event.
Hollander aim is clear: To make Cedar Market a new destination for one-stop shopping, as well as a social venue with special guests and community involvement. Hollander looks forward to bringing more community participation in, as part of Cedar Market’s place in the community. “We try to do things that stand out and are fun for our fans and customers, and to have what to remember from event to event. As we go on, more events and more fun will keep coming.”
by Jenny Gans