Business Person(s) of the Month: Marcy LeBlanc & Randy LeBlanc
Company: LeBlanc Food Stores
“We strictly believe in customer service. You’ve gotta love it, this business, and it’s gotta be in your blood. Customer service has always been a passion of ours – a passion that began with our grandfather and our father.”
Marcy and Randy LeBlanc, co-owners of LeBlancs Food Stores chain, are bringing their Frais Marche (Fresh Market) grocery store concept to Baton Rouge. The store will be opening in the Drusilla Village Shopping Center at the end of February 2015. Their family has been in the grocery business for more than a century and currently has two stores in Gonzales, and one each in Prairieville, Zachary, Donaldsonville, Plaquemine, Plattenville, and Hammond.
The opportunity to establish a fresh market store in Baton Rouge came about when the supermarket space in the Drusilla Shopping Center became available. Plans to remodel and expand the space (from 19,000 square feet to 30,000) are well underway. “This store takes ideas from our family, customers, employees, and vendors over the past fifty years and combines them into something we believe the community can be proud of.”
The Frais Marche concept includes emphasis on fresh food departments that consumers are drawn to these days while still offering the traditional supermarket variety that consumers need when they make shopping trips. These stores emphasize organic produce, prepared foods and specialty Cajun meat dishes. “It has all of the staples that customers expect to find in a supermarket, plus some lagniappe — or something extra — which you will find throughout our perishable departments,” said Marcy LeBlanc. “In other words, it’s the best of both worlds under one roof!”
As third generation retail operators of LeBlanc’s Food Stores, Randy LeBlanc says it was easy for the two brothers to stay in the family business. “Besides, our grandfather and father were both great teachers of retailing.” Marcy and Randy LeBlanc grew up in the grocery business from a very early age. From the time they could walk and talk, they were stocking shelves or operating cash registers, so it was a natural progression for them to evolve into the business.
“People gotta eat,” Marcy says. “We sell product people need, not just product they want. When there’s a downturn, people have a tendency to gather more around the home and family, and in south Louisiana the meal is a big part of that gathering.”
It’s a family business that has come full circle. The brother’s great grandfather, M.P. LeBlanc, owned and operated a store in the late 1800s located in Smoke Bend, near Donaldsonville, which technically makes the brothers the fourth generation of grocers in the LeBlanc family.
In 1961, their grandfather, L.C. LeBlanc, opened the first LeBlanc’s Food Stores in Gonzales. His son, M. Paul LeBlanc, took over the business and later opened a second store in Paincourtville, with the help of his sons Marcy and Randy. LeBlanc’s sold the original Gonzales store location in 1997 and reopened at a new larger more modern location in Gonzales. Marcy and Randy relocated the Paincourtville store to Donaldsonville in 2005. In 2013, the LeBlanc family opened up their first store from the ground up since the original store was built. It’s called LeBlanc’s Frais Marche and it is located in Gonzales.
“This Baton Rouge location honors our past, particularly our grandfather L.C. LeBlanc and our father M. Paul LeBlanc, while embracing the future,” said Randy LeBlanc. “When our grandfather opened LeBlanc’s in 1961 he strived for four things from his store — excellent customer service, quality products, competitive prices, and a large variety of products.” LeBlanc’s Frais Marche is taking these original principles and making them even better.
All five of the brothers’ children have joined the family business. Marcy’s three sons, Marcy LeBlanc, Jr., Matthew LeBlanc, and Lee LeBlanc, as well as Randy’s two daughters, Brooke LeBlanc Knight and Brittney LeBlanc. “Passing the torch is definitely in the foreseeable future,” says Marcy. “The idea of going to a fifth generation is kind of off the charts and exciting for us.”
According to Marcy, the number one market challenge is finding personnel willing to work. “We don’t work real hard” he says, “we just work often.” They are also coping with the business-wide issue of ballooning inflationary costs and competition. LeBlanc considers Louisiana’s joy of living a definite market advantage. “We are unique. Our love of good cooking is such an integral part of the socialization of Louisianans,” he says. “You can’t have a gathering without someone cooking something, and we do our best to have what they’re looking to cook.”
Associated Grocers is one of the keys to their success. LeBlanc’s Food Stores are members of Associated Grocers, Inc., the area’s largest distributor of products to retail grocers. The co-op of approximately 200 retailers banded together in the 1950s for the common purpose of buying better. This association allows grocers to buy in bigger quantities and at better costs and then pass it on to their customers. Associated Grocers has been dedicated to the survival and success of the independent retail grocer for over 65 years.
The LeBlancs advise other business owners to be adaptable and current with the times, when starting a business. Fifteen years ago, Marcy LeBlanc says he wasn’t sure they’d stay in business as Wal-Mart entered small-town America, but those fears eased when it became apparent the competition was only a “price retailer.” To counter, he says they successfully “shined up” and applied the same market basics as their father and grandfather: excellent customer service, quality products, competitive prices, and a large variety of products. “We dug in and adapted,” LeBlanc says. “We consider ourselves a hybrid grocery retailer. Our eight, soon to be nine, locations allow us to operate as an efficient, well-run, multi-store chain, but with the flexibility and local hometown personality of an independent. We put considerable amount of effort into adjusting to the needs of our customers in each of the areas we serve.”
The LeBlancs see Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas (Livingston, Ascension, Iberville) being inclusive of each other. It’s not uncommon now for people to work and live in different parishes. “We hope that Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas continue a slow growth with the development of downtown Baton Rouge playing a key role in that growth. We are excited to be a part of this growth. The industrial boom we are currently experiencing should help to keep great residents in our state while attracting new employees to Louisiana.”
Louisiana people don’t just cook to eat, they cook for an experience. Food is such an important aspect in Louisiana. Some almost consider it a religion. It showcases our history, passion, diversity, and love. “We hope Baton Rouge residents continue their love for food. We love how rich and diverse our Louisiana culture is and it comes out in the food people prepare and eat here. We love having a Louisiana business that embraces our past while looking forward to our future. It’s so interesting to hear customers talk about what they are cooking — from traditional Louisiana favorites to health-conscious entrees.”
Marcy LeBlanc graduated from East Ascension High School in 1978 and attended Louisiana State University (LSU) from 1979 to 1980. He is a member of the Reeves Supermarket Board of the Directors as well as the Board for United Community Bank. He is active in the Gonzales Rotary Club and the Knights of Columbus. Randy LeBlanc graduated from East Ascension in 1975 and LSU in 1979 with a Bachelor of Science in Management. He serves on the Associated Grocers Board of Directors and is very involved with Dreams Come True. In addition, LeBlanc’s Food Stores assist numerous organizations each year, especially the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, Child Advocacy Services, Muscular Dystrophy Association, and the Alzheimer’s Association of Louisiana.
The LeBlanc brothers typically read business journals and grocery magazines to stay up-to-date on all the latest trends and new products. For leisure, they both enjoy downloading electronic books and reading various types of fiction suspense novels. If they aren’t in the stores working, they can usually be found spending time with their grandkids. They both also enjoy attending LSU football and basketball games. When vacationing, Marcy enjoys camping while Randy enjoys the beach.
Randy and Marcy’s father, M. Paul LeBlanc, always told his children, “Work hard in life everyday and you will move up.” That is what the LeBlanc brothers have done.