For Sprankle’s, the focus is fresh food and videos
Nobody likes to see their town’s only supermarket leave, as is the case with the Vandergrift Sprankle’s.
The company is holding a liquidation sale starting Thursday, with the store closing several weeks after that.
But the market owners claim business is booming at its nearby store in Leechburg: A Facebook page advertising store specials, product giveaways and fun content has lifted sales by 20 percent this summer, according to Ryan Sprankle, operations manager.
The business is brisk enough in Leechburg to absorb about half of the 20 employees set to lose their jobs at the Vandergrift location, he said.
The family-run grocery store, with a third location in Kittanning, decided to shutter the Vandergrift market, which it has owned for about a decade, because the national franchise Dollar General was looking to move into town. Sprankle’s is selling them the store.
A spokeswoman for Dollar General didn’t release details, stating in an email: “We are currently in due diligence phase for a new Dollar General in Vandergrift.”
Sprankle’s closed their Apollo store in 2013 due to a limited customer base shared by several other markets. They sold that store to Dollar Tree.
“The Vandergrift store has struggled with things that have happened with the local economy and we had some bad bounces,” Randy Sprankle said. However, they turned things around increasing sales by 10 percent over the last year.
But it was not enough, the family reasoned, to withstand a competitor in town.
Trying to out-compete the dollar-type stores has been one of the major causes for the demise of supermarkets in small towns across the country, according to Super Market News.
“It’s going to be a loss for us,” said Vandergrift Mayor Barbara Turiak, who sometimes walks from her to home to the small neighborhood supermarket.
“Nothing against the Dollar General -- we look forward to having that store in town,” she said.
The growth of dollar stores along with growing food options at convenience stores and population declines in rural areas has caused the decline of the small grocer, according to Super Market News.
The proportion of small grocers with four or fewer locations declined 41 percent between 2005 and 2015 in the United States, while the total number of grocery stores rose 7 percent, according to the news outlet.
Although the town will lose its only supermarket, there are stores nearby, including a Giant Eagle in Allegheny Township and Naser Foods in Apollo.
Those most affected by the loss of the Vandergrift Sprankle’s will be those residents who can’t drive, Turiak said. Residents will miss the convenience of walking down the street to pick up just a few items rather that getting in the car, she added.
But they will have the option to order their food and have it delivered by Sprankle’s. The Leechburg and Kittanning stores deliver within 10 miles. Deliveries are free if the order is $75 or greater; or $3 if less. All orders must be at least $30.
The Vandergrift Sprankle’s has been a supermarket since the 1960s when it was “Condo’s,” then “Red & White,” and “Oliver’s IGA.”
Moving into the future
The Sprankle family spent the last year and half ramping up the Leechburg store with a new remodel and social media campaign to reach customers directly.
“Right now, we have been using Leechburg as a Petri dish for our model,” Sprankle said.
Sprankle’s Facebook videos, showcasing sales, product giveaways and employees has attracted more than 8,000 likes.
The sons of the supermarkets’ founder, Randy Sprankle, took the cyber route this summer to better reach customers. Ryan, and his brother Dough Sprankle, owner of the Leechburg store, teamed up for the social media push. Doug offers the technical expertise while Randy has the marketing know-how to come up with content for the Facebook page. There are produce promotions and giveaways, not just a glorified advertisement on their weekly specials.
They just started taking food orders from Facebook almost two weeks ago and people are ordering, Sprankle reported. Additionally, the store does deliver in a 10-mile radius through traditional means like a phone call.
As always, the company is focusing on its fresh cut meat. Not surprising from a family who has been in the meat business for a century.
“Our meat has comparable quality as Giant Eagle with a price as low as Walmart,” Randy Sprankle said. “We have this niche.”
The plans are to ramp up operations later this year with more fresh food at the Leechburg store showcased at a “chop shop” featuring employees cutting fresh produce and preparing food within view of the customers. A gourmet coffee bar is planned with an ambiance similar to the town’s popular Twisted Thistle restaurant on Market Street, according to Sprankle.