It’s hard to know who loves having Apple Market in Oologah more—the people who run it or the citizens who have welcomed it with open arms.
“The thing that impressed me the most was the people in the community and the things you guys do as a community. I had no idea you were this engaged,” said Jim Brown, president and CEO of Doc’s Foods, which owns Apple.
He’s waited 36 years for the Grand Opening celebration that begins this week with a ribbon cutting set for 10 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 8.
Brown first had the idea of owning a grocery store in Oologah in 1978, in his early years working for the grocery company his father had founded.
The plan sat on a back burner while the company expanded into other towns, but it never completely disappeared.
About three years ago, he got a call from Mickey Thompson, then executive director of the Rogers County Industrial Development Authority.
Thompson had been working with local business and government leaders, whose top economic development and lifestyle goal for Oologah was getting a quality grocery store.
“Mickey called me and asked if I had ever thought about putting a store in Oologah. I said I had,” Brown said.
While doing a final deal took a lot of work, “Everybody had the same goal,” he added.
Doc’s has a corporate culture which customers have fallen in love with—to provide a high quality shopping environment and staff members who love their jobs and show it by making shopping a pleasant experience.
“We did put in a very nice, very attractive facility that will last a long time. I want to start something, set that standard high enough that hopefully the people who come behind us will say, ‘We’ve got to look like this.’
“We want to be the best we can be and hopefully that will instill in people to do something equally good.
“Ten years ago, it (the store) might have been a metal building. I worked with a lot of people who took my words, my thoughts, and what they knew.
“I told them I wanted a 20-year project. I don’t want to come back in five years and have to redo it,” he explained.
Like the store building, the staff was the first Brown has built from the ground up since 1980.
Growth over the past three decades has come from buying existing stores.
When he bought a store, he did not go in intending to lay employees off. Rather, he worked to help existing staff adapt to the Doc’s culture, which stresses superb customer service and creating a pleasant shopping environment.
Those who can’t adapt generally move on to other employment.
Brown had noticed a number of very friendly employees at various Oologah locations and recruited locally, using a multi-tiered interview process to identify those who would fit in best.
He recalled attending an Oologah Town Board meeting, where members wanted to know how his staff had known they were coming to check out another Doc’s store, since it was supposed to be a surprise visit.
Brown asked why they thought the store knew in advance.
“Jan Miller said, ‘Because everybody was so friendly’. Another member said the store was so clean. They couldn’t believe we were like that at every store.
“I said, ‘Yes we are’.
“Our people and our culture say you’ve got to be ready every day because you never knew who’s coming.
“Reason we are having grand opening now is that you never have a party until you’re ready, and we knew we wouldn’t be completely ready until now,” Brown said.
He sees a bright future for both the store and the community.
“I am very pleased with the response from the people in town and the community. Their excitement about the store is neat, it is really fun.
“It is their store, not my store. I want them to be happy with their store and take ownership of their store,” Brown said.
He says coming to the new store brings back memories of many years ago:
“I remember when the grocery store was the local, social place where people would meet.
“The store has a great feel to it. Whenever I go in there it has a really great feel to it.”
He said the entire staff of the store is committed to keeping the aisles clear and providing an uncluttered, sleek look that makes the 19,000 square feet seem as if it is actually 25,000 square feet.
They also pay attention to doing more than just their job to keep customers happy.
He recalled store manager Eddie Landers helping a customer find horseradish.
Eddie is an excellent cook, and soon he and the customer were discussing what form of horseradish would work best for the recipe the man had in mind.
Brown says every encounter should have that kind of friendly, personal element.
“When you are spending your money, you should enjoy what you receive for it and you should get some reward,” he explained.
He hopes Apple Market will do its part to bring rewards to both Oologah and to future residents.
“I want Oologah to be the great community it can be, so more people can move in and enjoy it.”