Janet Young – The Fresh Market
Last May marked a milestone of sorts for The Fresh Market, albeit one that’ll soon be overtaken. The grocery chain with its specialty assortment of fresh foods and ingredients opened its 160th store, this one in Carmel, Indiana.
That’s yet another store for Janet Young to oversee as director of real estate administration, and with another to open this year and several more planned for 2024, her responsibilities only increase. The Fresh Market leasing rather than owning its properties, each store requires much collaboration with the landlord.
“We’re making sure they uphold their lease obligations, and we uphold ours,” Young tells Blueprint in July from her Phoenix home where she’s functioned remotely since joining the operation in May 2022. “Once a store opens, that’s when my team kicks in. I want team members and customers alike to feel welcomed and proud to have us as a member of the community.”
The landlord must maintain that property up to what was agreed upon in the lease. That includes clearing the parking lot after snowstorms and tree topplings, ensuring proper lighting and security outside, not leasing floor space to a competing business and, above all, doing whatever’s necessary to sustain a clean, safe and pleasant environment.
And not only is Young monitoring compliance on those fronts, she’s the liaison with construction, legal and accounting. She’s the company’s go-to for extending lease terms with landlords and securing funds for store upgrades, and in a short time has saved more than enough to justify her own compensation.
“We check every penny and audit all expenses that come back from the landlord,” she says. “At one store I negotiated a change that saved us $422,000 and, at a least two others, another, $300,000.”
While until around the mid-2010s The Fresh Market had stores in California, Texas, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas, it now operates almost exclusively east of the Mississippi River and has identified the East Coast as prime territory for growth. Right now, the chain stretches from Miami to Hingham, Massachusetts, but the brass sees many areas between and west of those places where this epicurean-like grocer could thrive.
Though far removed from any store, Young says she’s had no issues with doing her job in Phoenix. With one manager near the company headquarters in Greensboro, North Carolina, and another in Tampa, Florida, she says the property and lease administration runs effectively in large part due to the constant communications and relationship building with the landlords.
“The more communication you have with the store teams and landlords, the fewer work orders arise,” she says. “The store teams know we’re here to support them and when something arises, we fix it quickly.”
A grocery store being a complex operation, issues are inevitable. With many stores located in the Southeast, roofs may leak during hurricanes and torrential rains. Upon being notified by a store manager, Young’s team relays word to the landlord who’s likely to have a roofer on call.
She’s essentially made a career out of such a role, honing her skills at other companies and acknowledges it hasn’t all been planned.
“You don’t choose property management,” she says. “Property management chooses you.”
Work had been party
Prior to property management choosing her, Young seemed to have an interesting enough professional life, she and her husband operating a firm that provided custom theme parties for corporate events. With the clientele including casinos in Reno and Tahoe, business was brisk and fun, but it wasn’t something she was inclined to do forever.
At the beginning of 2000, she shifted into property management in the San Francisco Bay Area. She then relocated to the Sacramento area to work for a boutique development company, then switched to a REIT specializing in grocery-anchored retail centers, moving on to managing lifestyle centers before a four-year stretch with Kimco Realty Corp., in Granite Bay, California. Afterward came stints with a couple Scottsdale, Arizonia, entities.
Then, in 2015, she seemed to find her calling as senior manager of property and lease administration with Sprouts Farmers Market in Phoenix. Only this time, she’d be doing her job from the tenant’s side rather than the landlord’s.
“I knew how (landlords) thought and what their billings were about,” she says. “That’s a valuable trait to have when you switch to the tenant’s side.”
All the better, she says with a light laugh, that as a tenant, she wasn’t being awakened at 3 a.m. because of a blizzard necessitating snowplows or a roof that’s sprung a leak. But a few hours later, she’s still going to hear about it and have her own responsibilities to fulfill.
Young says she’s always been one to uphold her end, and during her 2015 to 2022 stretch at Sprouts, she saved the company $17 million through due diligence of lease arrangements and invoicing. Sprouts also being a specialty grocery chain noted for organic foods, and active in more than 20 states, Young was the natural choice when her former boss went to Fresh Market and needed someone of her credentials.
The company’s executives having adapted to working remotely or hybrid since COVID-19, there were no issues with Young staying in Phoenix. The distance notwithstanding, she says she feels very connected to her colleagues.
“At The Fresh Market, you are a human being and not just an employee with a number,” Young says. “This is a very family-oriented company and we’re made to feel part of that family. The retention is amazing. We just had a team member celebrate his 30-year anniversary and a lot of the people have been here many, many years.”
Young figures to be around a long time too, there being so much opportunity to grow the franchise in the East as well as the Heartland. But, as she emphasizes, it must be prudent growth with landlord and tenant on the same page.
“We’ve got to look upon each other as partners,” she says.
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