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It's All Relative: Schnucks

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Family harmony. It not only has been a guiding principal of the Schnuck family grocery business for 75 years, it actually has become part of each family member’s annual review: They grade each other for either contributing to family harmony or putting strains on it. Scott Schnuck says it was his dad who made it a top priority. “He ingrained it in us so deeply that regardless of the business, family harmony is above everything else.”

The company just made a major announcement regarding its top leadership: Scott’s younger brother, Todd, will be the new president and CEO of Schnuck Markets in March. Scott Schnuck will remain as chairman, and oldest brother Craig will formally retire and become chairman emeritus. The changes all are part of a succession plan that has been in the works for more than a year, and Todd notes that it’s all happening without a lot of conflict because of that commitment to unity. “It’s one of the things that has allowed us to stay in business together for all these years. Everyone feels they have a voice, and are able to talk and express opinions. We don’t take votes on anything—we develop a consensus and then move forward.”

The family’s grocery business started in 1939, when Edwin Schnuck and his wife, Anna, opened their first store in North St. Louis at the corner of Geraldine and Harney avenues in the Walnut Park Neighborhood. Sons Don and Ed and daughter Annette also opened small stores separately but soon joined with their parents to form the nucleus of the Schnucks grocery store chain.

The company never really stopped growing. In 1970, Schnucks doubled in size when it bought the Bettendorf-Rapp chain. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, the current and third generation of the family took charge. In 1995, Schnucks bought out the National Supermarket chain. Today, it is the 34th-largest grocery store chain in the U.S., with 100 stores in five states, 15,000 employees and more than $2.5 billion in annual sales. It all adds up to an equally abundant amount of harmony in the Schnuck clan, indeed.

A total of seven third-generation family members—including youngest brothers Terry and Mark, sister Nancy and cousin Stephanie—form the family’s leadership group that meets monthly. Todd calls them ‘the S-7.’ “It’s a de facto board meeting, but not a formal one. It sounds kind of hokey, but we sit around a round table and talk strategy—we’re all equal shareholders.”

But with this latest announcement, the family did break from tradition: A non-family member, Anthony Hucker, is moving into the role of COO and executive VP. Todd says Hucker will help the business expand its horizons, while a potential fourth generation of the family gains experience and then possibly move into top leadership roles.

Even though this is the 75th anniversary year for Schnucks, it’s the newest of the other homegrown chains. And size-wise, it is significantly larger. Scott gives much of that credit to his father and uncle. “What they did was so much harder than what my generation has done. They came from nothing and competed, and were able to establish themselves in a market where Kroger, A&P and National were dominant.”

As Scott begins to scale down his role in the company, he’s hoping to have more time spend on other important business—like visiting grandchildren and, of course, grocery-shopping. Both Scott and Todd claim to be dedicated shoppers, although they say they’re not as serious as their wives would like them to be. Every Sunday after Mass, Todd and his wife can be found pushing a cart down the aisles of one of their stores. And Scott says one of his favorite pastimes is trying to uncover the next potential big-seller. “One of the things I love to do is to forage for products that I think would sell at our stores—that’s something that’s just in my blood.”

With Scott handing the reins over to his brother, he can focus on his next project as chair of the 2014 United Way Campaign of Greater St. Louis. But ultimately, he’ll keep a close eye on that prime directive and reflect on the words of his father. “If the business gets in the way of family harmony, then sell the business.”

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