BM: My uncle, Seung Hwan Koo, is the owner of Supermercado Latino. He has been operating the store for 13 years now. As manager of the market I have been working here for 7 years. I am originally from Vancouver. I had to start from scratch, with no business background when I came to Supermercado Latino, but actually it is exciting to be learning new things on the job.How would you describe your business, and its role in the community?
BM: Our role is to provide healthier food to the community, at good prices. It’s what the Community Market Conversion program encourages to happen at other neighborhood stores.
BM: My uncle’s vision is to expand the store to multiple locations in Los Angeles. Other than that long term goal, what I want to see is a fresh and clean market with good graphic design.
BM: Our biggest strength is customer service. Most of our customers are locals who we’ve known for years. They are loyal to us because they know we are not about the money. We are also able to provide more variety of healthy foods than other local stores. But what makes us competitive as a business is our reputation. We pay our employees well, we don’t sell alcohol or tobacco, and we work hard to offer fresh, affordable, healthy food. We follow the law and try to love our neighbors through our business. We may not be as financially profitable as we could be, but the way we do it works for us. It is possible.What challenges does Supermercado Latino face?
BM: It is hard to compete with bigger markets nearby. Ralphs and Fresh and Easy have better relationships with equipment vendors and food distributors and always get a better price point than we do. Another issue is access to funds. Technology like POS systems, machinery, refrigeration is so expensive. We don’t have a POS system at Supermercado Latino. Access to knowledge is also needed. As a beginner to business, I did some research on my own of food retail strategies online, and by going to Trader Joe’s and other markets to observe the sales and marketing tools they use. Not everyone would be able to do what I did. The Healthy Neighborhood Market Network meets this need with its business development trainings.
BM: In general we storeowners need a clearer route and access to the best and most competitively priced vendors of seafood, produce, and more. We want to know what is available, including alternatives to Unified Grocers. I am also curious about the plastic bag ban and other resources, like the Department of Water and Power solar panel installation program.Thank you to Brad Min for granting us this interview! By recommendation from the HNMN, Brad’s store received free energy efficient lighting installments from the Department of Water and Power in May. Supermercado Latino was featured in a press conference with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that month, announcing the start of the new DWP Small Business Direct Install energy efficiency program. The Los Angeles Food Policy Council wish you great success as a neighborhood grocer, and hope to continue supporting your business through the Healthy Neighborhood Market Network. To read the Healthy Neighborhood Market Network quarterly newsletter, click here.