FireLake Discount Foods Customer Care Manager Kay Bruce thrives on the store’s fast pace. Watching her work, she fills a request for a local school, helps two employees, places a special order and checks someone out in seven minutes.
“It’s not a repetitive day. There are some things you do, but with the different situations that come to you, everything’s different,” she said. “I love challenges. I love staying busy.”
Bruce’s experience in the grocery business spans four decades. She started as a part-time cashier, and since then, she stocked shelves, acted as assistant manager, ran the front end and bagged purchases at four different establishments. She began working for FDF 16 years ago, and it is her favorite.
“With this store, the sky’s the limit. It’s like progress is coming, and that’s what makes it so challenging, interesting,” Bruce said. “You want to learn more, know more and do more because it’s growing. It’s like it has no boundaries.”
Her face lights up when she talks about taking the business to the next level and watching her employees learn new skills. Others call her “Super Woman” and respect her dedication and contributions; she sets the positive, customer-oriented mood by example every day. However, she would much rather talk about the kindness the baggers show the elderly or how upper management provides a comfortable space for everyone to thrive.
“I don’t think of it as work,” Bruce said. “I think of it as just coming and making sure everything is taken care of, people are taken care of.”
FireLake Discount Foods’ slogan is “passionately committed to retail excellence one customer at a time.”
“We say it, we believe it, and we practice it,” Bruce said. “To me, that should be an everyday thing; that should be effortless. Just do it because that’s what comes natural for us. Without customers, we wouldn’t be here.”
As she paces the front of the building, answering questions, she makes a point of greeting visitors as they walk through the door. “It’s just what I do,” she said.
Bruce knows many of the repeat shoppers’ names, and sometimes they stop to hug her at the front before they head off with their cart. Putting in the extra effort makes her an exceptional employee.
“We do things that I think some stores may not want to take the time to do, and we will follow up on things. We don’t just take it and sit it on a desk and leave it,” she said.
It creates loyalty and provides a memorable experience they pass on to others. Word-of-mouth is a powerful tool, according to Bruce.
“We will take a customer request, and we will try to do the best we can to get that item, if possible,” she said. “You wouldn’t believe how people are so happy when you will go that extra mile for them to try to get something.”
However, the importance of excellent service also lies in human interaction — like providing a bright spot in someone’s day in something as simple as a grocery trip.
“It’s just that personal contact that I think people need because there may be lonely people that come shopping, and we may be their only person that they get to talk to that day. And if we can make their day, so be it. We’ll do it,” she said with a smile.
“I consider this like a second family,” Bruce said. “It’s a FireLake family.”
She calls herself a “working manager” and sacks, collects carts and rings up consumers like the 70 employees she oversees. She knows all of their names and does not ask them to do anything she would not do.
“I’ve been there, done that, and I feel like we work alongside each other,” she said. “Yes, they are my employees, but I’ll do anything for them in my ability.”
Throughout the last decade and a half, she watched many staff members come and go. For some, FireLake was their first job, while others used their experience as a steppingstone in their career. Bruce’s position allows her to see teenagers grow into professionals, parents and much more.
“They come back, and they see me. … I think, ‘Oh, look what they turned out to be,’” Bruce said. “It’s so awesome just to have a part of that path that they’re following. So that just makes you feel good.”
Everyone in the store calls her “Miss Kay,” including some employees’ parents she visits with on occasion.
Bruce checks on the employees in difficult situations or with health problems, always lending a helping hand or attempting to make the workplace as amendable as possible. She relies on them and knows they make her job possible.
As both a manager and customer service representative, Bruce keeps others at the forefront of her mind. She believes FireLake does the same as an employer and retail establishment.
“That’s why I like working here because they actually care, and you can tell they care,” she said. “And that means a lot to people.”