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Local Businesses Adapt to Savvy Customers

A new breed of consumer has emerged for two long-time family operations, Vince and Joe's Gourmet Market in Shelby Township and Weingartz Power Equipment in Utica.

Area movers and shakers and are models for business success in aspects that their peers probably haven’t considered.

Those abilities transcend surviving a tough economy. They’ve done it well enough to thrive and even expand during the toughest years in recent Michigan history.

But the reason for their success is rather unexpected: They credit savvy customers.

“We’ve seen the consumer become much wiser about foods,” said Vincent Sciarrino, co-manager of the Shelby Vince & Joe’s. “People are more educated, versatile and aware. That forces us, rightfully, to step it up.”

He and co-manager Sal Munaco credit cable television’s Food Network for emerging consumer knowledge and experimentation, along with experts such as Emeril Lagasse and Beba who are instrumental in teaching food preparation and taste appreciation.

At the other end of Van Dyke, in Utica, Dan Weingartz echoes those consumer truths.

“People are more conscious of how they spend their money, and there is a desire for more in-depth information on products,” he said. “Enthusiasts always make better customers.”

“We’ve seen the consumer become much wiser about foods. People are more educated, versatile and aware. That forces us, rightfully, to step it up.”

Weingartz, a 38-year-old Shelby Township resident, says that a down economy and strange weather patterns have definitely affected his four-generation family business focused on snow and lawn care.

Still, he says, enduring relationships with well-informed customers are an important mainstay.

Prices come and go, but ongoing relationships mean fair prices and build trust, he adds. With big-box stores as his primary competition, Weingartz has stayed on top by offering “price-sensitive” models as well as a parts and advice department for consumers to extend the life of any equipment.

Weingartz shares the labors, dreams and appreciation for a healthy business with his blended task force of family, as well as scores of loyal employees stretched over five store locations. The still-vital business was founded in 1945 by his grandfather, Ray Sr., who sold feed and farm supplies before parlaying into engine-driven equipment for all seasons.

“As the area grew, we grew with it,” he said. “Today, we have five locations, and every time we have added on or built new, we have even used the same construction company—E. Gilbert & Son’s—that built our flagship store in Utica. That’s how connected we are to even our vendors.”

Traditional business plans have been better put to the side by today’s vibrant companies who can think outside the box. The key to finding a workable structure, although challenging at times, is invigorating as well as rewarding.

For Weingartz, government regulations on safety, noise and other emissions, fuel prices and shipping costs have also added to the need for creative thinking.

Establishing customer-loyalty programs and utilizing technology furthers that ability for both businesses.

As another local business, Vince & Joe’s began in 1983, the commitment to quality of the Vitale family: Vince, Domenica, Joe and Maria. Now serving the public at two bustling locations—their Shelby store debuted as the second in 2006—the market name is synonymous with televised cooking segments as well as the prestigious Hour Magazine’s Best of Detroit honors.

“Today, we experiment; we try every venue,” said Sciarrino, 63 and a Clinton Township resident. “The ones that work, we stay with. But, we are an organic business—and that’s not just the produce and other foods. We are a living entity, a business with a viable life of our own. That requires adapting quickly, staying with the trends and offering products for people’s needs.”

Thirty-six-year-old Munaco, a Macomb resident, emphasizes Vince & Joe’s community commitment and the willingness to go the extra mile for patrons. That has involved adding a gourmet chef to devise new recipes as well as prepare beloved family meals, which are available for takeout.

“We are open-minded,” Munaco said. “We consider staff and management input and value the independence of our operation. We’re not a chain, and our flexibility shows it.”

Vince & Joe’s is at 55178 Van Dyke, and can be reached at (586) 789-9230.

Weingartz is at 46061 Van Dyke, and can be reached at (586) 731-7240. www.weingartz.com.

You can find more articles from this ongoing series, “Dispatches: The Changing American Dream” from across the country at The Huffington Post.

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