When Nancy Kerscher decided to retire several years ago, she could have sold The Hills Market to outside buyers. Instead she gave the reins to familiar faces.
In the grocery business, it’s not unusual for owners to make their children their successors. However, Kerscher’s kids had all chosen careers outside the grocery industry, so she sold The Hills Market to four employees: Mark Agner, Kyle Baker, Valerie Carlson, and James Stiffler.
Some were close family friends, others had worked for Kerscher and her late husband, Roy, who opened the market in 1993. Today, Agner serves as president; Baker is executive vice president; Carlson is chief financial officer, secretary and legal council; and Stiffler is CEO and chairman of the board.
“The people who purchased the market had already been entrusted to run the market,” says its spokeswoman Jill Moorhead. “Each of them had been hand-selected by Roy and Nancy to make sure their investment was running smoothly. It was a natural transition.”
Since then, the 16,800-square-foot market −located at 7860 Olentangy River Rd. just 10 minutes north of Clintonville− has continued to expand its services, most recently launching an online store.
“We started work on HillsOnTheGo.com close to 18 months ago,” Moorhead says. “It took a great amount of time to do the behind-the-scenes work to get the site up and running. We’ve been delivering groceries for years through phone and fax orders, but we wanted to streamline the service.
“Basically, it’s our goal to provide the same great products and customer service you’d get in the store to anyone in Columbus. We get people from around Columbus asking us to open a store in their neighborhoods on a daily basis. HillsOnTheGo.com is that store.”
Read on to learn more about The Hills Market, including the items shoppers can find there, the other services it offers, and what sets it apart from the competition.
The Metropreneur: How many employees does the market have?
Jill Moorhead: We range from 60 to 100, depending on the time of year.
[M]: What’s the store’s layout like?
JM: Our perimeter departments are our specialty and service departments. The center of the store contains regular grocery items, dry goods, dairy and frozen. Just outside the front door is our veranda− a space used for classes, breakfast, lunch, wine bars, beer tastings, happy hours and private events.
[M]: About how many items does the store carry?
JM: Hundreds of thousands. We have more than 4,000 different wine labels, a full service State Liquor Agency, more than 2,500 Ohio products, and tens of thousands of specialty items.
[M]: That’s a lot. How many items are available in the online store?
JM: Approximately 5,000.
[M]: Do you know how many orders have been placed at HillsOnTheGo.com?
JM: Approximately 120.
[M]: Is that number what management was expecting?
JM: It’s a slow growth. We’re asking people to change their shopping habits.
[M]: What services besides online shopping does the market offer?
JM: We’ll order anything for anyone, so long as it’s legally available in Ohio. We do private cooking classes and wine tastings. We do custom gift baskets. We have a full service floral shop that does a great wedding business. We have a full service catering company. We deliver [community supported agriculture] shares for Wayward Seed Farm customers. HillsOnTheGo.com has drive up service, as well. For free.
[M]: What sets The Hills Market apart from other grocers?
JM: We’re a service provider that happens to sell groceries. Seriously, though, customer service is our niche. We employ highly qualified department heads who know their departments inside out. We have an expertise at throwing great events, as well.
[M]: Is there anything else you think we should know?
JM: We love food, Ohio and our community, and try to show it through the things that we do.
To learn more about The Hills Market, visit TheHillsMarket.com.