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Q&A: How a co-op grocery store manager brings Seattle’s diverse community together

As manager of a grocery store in one of Seattle's most diverse zip codes, Kerri Hunsley supports the area's small businesses while also offering mentoring to associates in store.

7 min read

FoodFood Retail

FMI Store Manager Award winner Kerri Hunsley


Despite entering the grocery industry the year before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, Kerri Hunsley considers her foray into the industry fate—and her colleagues and executive team at Seattle-based PCC Community Markets seem to agree.

“Kerri’s style of servant leadership embodies our co-op’s values,” said Krish Srinivasan, PCC’s president and CEO. “Every day, she prioritizes being a guiding presence on the floor to lead her team by example and connect with folks while shopping. She consistently goes the extra mile in supporting her community. As store director of one of PCC’s highest-earning stores, Kerri has built a team with shared values and goals, commendably propelling the co-op’s commitment to supporting our people and communities forward.” 

FMI, The Food Industry Association, has also taken notice of Hunsley’s contributions within the food retailing community and, earlier this year, honored her as a Store Manager Award winner.

Here, Hunsley takes time to chat with SmartBrief about an incubation project she helped launch that supports local Black-owned small businesses, how she helps cultivate future leaders and the fateful events that started it all.

What led you to a job in the grocery industry?

It actually was like fate. I worked for a company called REI, which is an outdoor recreation equipment store you’ve probably heard of. I worked for them in St Louis, Mo., , and a grocery store moved in right next door to us in the in the mall that we were in and I became quick friends with a lot of the staff. One day, probably a year into being there, the store director came over to me, and asked me, ‘Hey, would you like to come and apply for a job with Whole Foods Market?’ And I said, ‘Sure.’ I shopped there. I loved what it stood for. I loved the core values and I loved the staff. So, I interviewed with a panel of 20 people and I didn’t get the job. And I thought, ‘OK, well, that was interesting, you know, to go through that process.’ But I thought, you know, I’m good where I was at. I loved what I did. But they came to me again a week later and said, ‘Hey, would you interview again with us?’ And I said, ‘Are you sure they want me to do that?’ And they said, ‘Yeah, we are.’ It turned out they opened up another position and hired me as the second assistant. That’s how I ended up in grocery. It was just kind of a fluke thing that happened but it was probably the best thing I ever did.

What do you think was your biggest takeaway from that first experience in food retailing?

They ran their business based on six core values, and those core values really resonated with me to help me be a better leader. And now, at PCC, PCC uses the same core values that resonate with me. I’m very fortunate to have evolved from the beginning of my career in grocery with those six core values and I’m still instilling those today in my day-to-day work and applying them to be the best person and the best leader that I can be.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

I go in every day hoping that I can make a difference – with a customer, with a staff member. I don’t feel that my day is complete if I don’t make a difference somehow, some way, you know. It could be a staff member having a bad day and turning their day around, or coaching them on how to do something better, or talking with a customer and putting a smile on their face. They come in every day looking for somebody to talk to, or showing them some really great products, or talking to them about food. I mean, really, I think that the biggest thing that I look forward to every day is trying to make a difference.

What would you say is the most challenging part of food retailing today?

One of the biggest challenges, I think today in the industry – and I think it’s probably everywhere – is really trying to find really great people that are passionate and driven and want to work in grocery – not that it’s just a passive income, but they’re really excited about working with food and people. I think that’s a challenge today.

One of the projects that you’ve undertaken is partnering with nonprofits such as Seattle’s Peace Peloton (a nonprofit that connects consumers to small, local Black-owned businesses). How is PCC making a difference with that partnership?

So just to give you a little background about my store, it’s in one of the most diverse zip codes in the United States. And Doc (Reginald ‘Doc’ Williams), who runs Peace Peloton, he lives in the neighborhood and he’s a shopper at PCC. He started a monthly event called Saturday Night Market where he brings together vendors within the neighborhood that are part of the BIPOC community, that don’t have resources, or processes in place to bring their products to market. It’s not a farmers market, but it’s specifically for the BIPOC community vendors that come in and try to sell their products: food, candles, jewelry, a food truck. Doc came to me and wanted to build this partnership, so I got our people in our office, our buyers and our merchandisers to meet with Doc and to brainstorm, ‘How can we get these vendors’ products on shelves?’ We worked on that for about a year, and now we carry quite a few products from the BIPOC communities at the markets in the stores now but PCC is also meeting once a month in our classroom with new vendors and teaching them about packaging, labeling, ingredients, and what it takes to get on the shelf and stay there. It’s been very successful.

What would you say to a young person who is considering a career in the grocery industry? How would you encourage them or what advice would you give them?

That’s part of my job – to cultivate leaders. We try to find folks within our four walls to promote within, to get people to the next level. I would tell them, ‘You know, you have to be driven. You have to love people, and you have to love food.’

How do you see your role transitioning over the next five years or 10 years? If you had a crystal ball, how do you think you would see your role transform?

That’s really interesting to think about it. Every six months, there’s new technology, there’s AI now. I think there’s going to be probably less staff in the stores. There’s going to be more technology, more personal shoppers. I see that growing. I think there’ll be new vendors that will come to market and more self checkout. There’s minimal contact with humans, which is sad, but you know, people’s lives are busier and busier and I don’t see that changing.

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