May 1, 2008

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Forging a Path Along Utah's Corporate Trail

A tradition of pioneering spirit has built Utah into one of the nation’s stro...Read More

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Utah's Top 100 Companies

Marie Mischel

May 1, 2008


18. Deer Valley Resort A seemly permanent place in SKI magazine’s rankings of top North American ski resorts and the Zagat Restaurant Guide have perched Deer Valley Resort on a pinnacle of success, but company officials continue to look for new performance peaks to scale. “There are a lot of things we try to do differently every year to improve,” says Deer Valley Resort President/General Manager Bob Wheaton. He points to additions such as hosting an FIS ski cross event for the first time, and changing the schedule for the three-event World Cup “so that when people came up, there was always something going on. If there was a down time between a competition, then another one of the venues was training.” Even away from the snow, changes occur. Resort staff is constantly testing new recipes for restaurants or innovative ways to present dishes, Wheaton says. One thing that doesn’t change, however, is the desire to keep upping the service a notch each year,” he adds. One of the pieces of our business is providing an elevated level of guest service, and it’s our opinion – and it has proven true in the last 27 years we’ve been operating – that if we can do that, and still pay attention to the business issues, then we will have a viable, ongoing business.” Wheaton attributes the resort’s success to the staff members who “understand what Deer Valley is all about. We have a nice mountain and we have nice buildings and nice facilities, but it’s really the people on staff that make a difference. There is a true desire by everyone to provide a quality guest experience.” This focus is a key to success, he adds. “One of our best methods of marketing is word of mouth. Typically, when people come here for the first time, we will see them back. And they tell their friends about their experience.” Deer Valley reaps top rankings during the ski season, but the resort strives to provide equal offerings in the spring, summer and fall, Wheaton says. “The off-season activities fit into our business model. It’s the same philosophy, it’s just a different offering we have for the guests. So whether we’re talking about summer dining or a mountain biking experience or a symphony experience or a jazz festival experience, what we hope to do is to provide great guest services throughout those experiences.” 24. Associated Foods The friendly neighborhood grocer who stocks your favorite brands and sponsors the local soccer team is backed by a powerful partner, Associated Foods (AF), a billion-dollar business dedicated to helping local, independent retail grocery stores. AF, established in 1940, is a retailer-owned cooperative, so “not only do we serve our customers, but our customers are actually our owners,” says President and CEO Richard A. Parkinson. That business model is an advantage, he says, “We don’t have that conflict between shareholders and customers. Everything in our system goes to the benefit of the independent grocer. People that have ownership in something tend to be a little more vested…I think they are much more engaged in helping us to improve the quality of our operations, as an owner and also as a customer.” With about 600 grocers in an eight-state Intermountain West region, AF’s mission is to serve those independent retailers, “to make sure they have an opportunity to survive and thrive into the future,” Parkinson says. The company has taken several steps recently to direct that future. Last year, it purchased Gonzales & Sons, LLC, a Hispanic food distributor that has been in Utah for about 10 years. “With the influx of Hispanics coming into our market, we felt that it would be a great blend of putting our capital and our distribution behind somebody who had a local product and knowledge as well as the relationships, and also provide our retail stores with authentic Hispanic groceries that Hispanics relate to,” Parkinson says. “It’s just done great for us. We’ve doubled the sales of that facility in just a year.” AF also has undertaken an effort to identify demographics so each grocer can stock items that appeal to age groups and ethnicities in specific areas, he says. “It’s nothing more than giving the customers what they want. It’s a huge initiative for us, and we’re putting multi-millions of dollars behind that.” In addition, AF has used the Internet and its own company intranet to replace its yearly trade show with a monthly virtual offering to connect its retailers with manufacturers and vendors. These innovations fit into AF’s business philosophy of providing independent grocers not only lower costs that come with combined purchasing power, but also services that allow them to differentiate themselves in their local markets, Parkinson says. “We’re very proud of the fact that we’re locally owned and operated. We represent…the independent grocer, and we’re dedicated to their success. That’s what gives us passion and our sense of cause, and there’s nothing more motivating than having something you’re passionate about.” 37. Artic Circle From the days of the carhop through the burger wars of the 1970s to today’s culinary creations, such as Southwest salads, Arctic Circle has thrived in the intensely competitive fast food restaurant arena. “We have been in operation for 60 years now,” says CEO Gary Roberts. “A lot of the success we have been able to have, I think, is because of the quality products and the decision we made to move ourselves into that quality fast food restaurant realm.” The decision to serve quality products such as black Angus burgers and shakes made with real fruit was made to “get us out of the burger wars” that occurred in the 1970s, when fast food restaurants priced their hamburgers at 49 cents or 39 cents to draw customers from the competition, he says. Knowing that was not a battle that could be won, Arctic Circle executives chose a different path. “People aren’t loyal to price, people are loyal to product,” Roberts says. “At that time, we looked at every menu item we had and said, ‘What can we do to…to show quality to the consumer that they would believe is quality rather than just words we’re saying in our marketing program?’” Roberts also attributes the company’s success to the management team. “Store managers have seniority of about 10 years and on the corporate level, the average employee has been here 23 years,” he says. Reducing employee turnover, especially at the manager level, is a goal Arctic Circle tries to meet with employee recognition and incentives. “Honoring and patting employees on the back goes a long way as far as longevity, and it helps the company because it increases sales,” he says. “If we hadn’t been doing that, we wouldn’t have 25 percent of our stores over a million dollars.” The company continues to expand. In the past 14 months it opened five new stores. In April, it introduced a Southwest salad to its menu, followed by a pastrami cheeseburger in May. Both products are in response to customer requests. “You’ve got to be able to change with the times,” Roberts says. “If we had stayed in [the same] mindset, we really probably wouldn’t be in business. One of the reasons we’ve been successful is that we try to listen to what the consumer wants and deliver that product to them.”
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