BUSINESS BEAT: Longtime grocery man honoured for lifetime in the business

Thrifty Foods co-founder Ernie Skinner still going strong

Owner Ernie Skinner arranges the red peppers at Market on Yates. At 71

Owner Ernie Skinner arranges the red peppers at Market on Yates. At 71

The grocery business is in Ernie Skinner’s blood, quite literally.

He was well-known in Greater Victoria as one half of the Thrifty Foods braintrust, opening the first store with Alex Campbell in the Fairfield Plaza in 1977 and “retiring” in 1991 with seven stores and a warehouse in operation. Skinner continued to keep his eye out for opportunities to offer a new and unique way to provide the basics, and then some.

It took until 1999 for his organic-specialty Market on Yates to come to fruition, so to speak. The success of that venture led to his partnering with daughter Christine and son-in-law Darryl Hein in 2006 to open the Market on Millstream.

It’s been nearly six decades since Skinner first donned a smock and worked the aisles at Safeway (he started in 1955). His long career and leadership in the industry prompted the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers to honour him recently with a Life Membership designation.

Now 71 and involved to a lesser degree with the Market stores – “I review the financial statements and so on” – Skinner attributes his love for the industry and the daily goings-on of the grocery business for his longevity.

“If you love something, your chances for success go way up,” he told the News. “Choose something that makes you happiest and stick with it.”

An early mentor at Safeway, Ron Olson, helped groom Skinner for future leadership, he said. “I fell in love with the industry and knew that I would someday own a store of my own, somewhere, somehow. He motivated me and today I’m still a great believer in mentoring.”

In announcing Skinner as winner one of the lifetime achievement awards, federation president and CEO John Scott called him “a true legend in the grocery industry.”

“Ernie has made a significant footprint on the Canadian grocery industry that will live on for a long time through his equally dedicated and motivated family,” Scott wrote.

As for the opportunity to work with family to grow another company, Skinner both values it and enjoys it.

“You nurture your children in life experiences and now I have a chance to nurture them in business experiences,” he said. “But you have to be prepared to let go and have them learn their own lessons.”

Despite being in a business that changes frequently and is highly competitive, with big-box stores putting pressure on smaller grocery retailers, he said it’s important to stay focused.

“Just don’t try and play their game, create your own and stick with it,’” he said. “The consumer is always the final solution to success or lack of it.”

Late-night shopping beefed up downtown

In conjunction with cruise-ship season, The Bay Centre has extended its weekend hours to accommodate the thousands of passengers expected to head up Government Street on Friday and Saturday evenings this summer. Retailers are open until 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays to Sept. 4.

“We are making a commitment to our guests, cruise ship partners and local hoteliers (to provide) a welcoming environment while showcasing the vibrancy of downtown Victoria,” said centre general manager Darlene Hollstein.

Kudos for CA’s community service

Victoria chartered accountant, Gordon Gunn received a Community Service Award last week from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of B.C.

Gunn, a partner at KPMG LLP, has served as treasurer and vice-president of finance for the Boy Scouts of Canada; has acted as president, treasurer, and director of the Great Canadian Picnic Society, and as secretary-treasurer for Ballet Victoria.

He has also worked on local social housing initiatives, including the Greater Victoria Coaliton to End Homelessness.

Ten years of creativity celebrated by ad firm

Victoria ad agency McAllister Media is celebrating 10 years in business. By focusing on identifying clients’ key consumers, it has enjoyed growth in a struggling economy, says vice-president and director of marketing, Tracy McAllister, who works with husband and company president, Andrew.

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