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Houchens slowly morphing into IGA
In Feb. 10 Issue
By John Thompson
Times Journal Reporter

Houchens of Russell Springs, located in the Key Village Shopping Center, is currently going through a large makeover. When the remodel is complete, it will be the end of an era for Houchens in the county and the beginning of IGA. Renovations began last week and the first of April is targeted for a grand re-opening celebration.

According to Tracy Worley, the district manager for Houchens Industries, the total makeover will include equipment upgrades, painting, new lighting, new deep freezer cases and refrigerator units, and a revamping of the product lineup which will focus more on items most desired by customers.

"Our whole plan in doing this is to offer time, value and hopefully a pleasant shopping experience for the people in Russell Springs," Worley said.

As a result, the store will also be reduced in size. Currently underway is an approximately 5,000 square ft. reduction in the size. The divided section will soon become another commercial front for use either as retail or other business space. The new IGA will occupy about 17,000 sq. ft.

The construction aspect of the makeover has been contracted to Branscum Construction.

With the taking of the IGA brand name, Worley said many changes will ensue not only including a wide line of IGA brand products but also increasing employee education on service and products for a higher standard in operations, cleanliness, and friendliness.

"The standards are much more rigorous," Worley said.

Houchens began in Russell County when the company bought the business site belonging to Johnny Colson, what would later become Johnny's Family Center, and now houses Premier Drug Testing. That location was only temporary as they built the building they would move into in 1976, according to long time employee and retired manager Bobby Jasper. That store closed several years ago and the building is now owned by Terry Stephens housing an assemblage of his collector automobiles .

Russell Springs' second Houchens store began in 1989 as the company took over Key Market.

"We just felt like we needed a new identity in Russell Springs," said Worley.

Changes include many new programs, such as a "double your money back" guarantee. "The IGA brand quality is second to none," said Worley, "if you don't like it; if it does not meet your quality standards, we will give you double your money back."

Worley said the store will only carry Angus beef, but without the Angus beef price. Hormel will be the pork providers and Pilgrim's Pride the chicken distributor.

"Folks will see a completely different store when they come in here," Worley said.

The renovation continues a business model change, as between 80 and 90 percent of Houchens markets have changed to IGA's country wide, according to Worley.

Keith Taylor, store manager at the Russell Springs Houchens said "I'm really excited about the changes. I've been waiting for this for years," and according to Worley, Taylor has been enthusiastic about making the changes and has encouraged him for years to begin the project.

Taylor has been the manager in Russell Springs for three years and an employee with the company for eleven.

"This wouldn't be possible if I didn't have a good staff working with me. They wouldn't put the money or effort into the conversion if they weren't confident in the people working here," Taylor said with agreement from Worley.

According to Worley they will be looking to expand staff along with the changes, "Anyone looking for a long term career, this is the place to be," Worley said. A fact that he says is in large part due to employees having a direct stake in the profitability and rewards of employee ownership, "There's nothing hidden about our business practices. Any income generated or cost incurred these folks have full knowledge of," Worley said. "They have a voice in saying what we spend their money on."

This will be the second store conversion for Taylor as he was involved in the switchover from Houchens to IGA in Columbia. This is the 18th conversion for Worley, who is responsible for stores in Adair, Taylor, Green, Hart, as well as Russell County.

Houchens Industries had its humble beginnings in 1917 when Ervin G. Houchens opened his first store in a 12 foot by 20 foot shed in Barren County, Kentucky at the age of 19. Over the years he would open several more stores in Kentucky, first venturing outside of the state in 1954 with a store in Lafayette, Tennessee. The company would change its name in 1977 to Houchens Industry Inc. They are headquartered in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

In 1988 the company was bought by the Employee Stock Option Program (ESOP). Today, Houchens Industries, Inc. is a diversified conglomerate wholly owned by its employee owners. Houchens has businesses in retail grocery and convenience stores, quick-to-service restaurants, insurance, stock brokerage and financial services, franchising of optical stores, construction, fence materials manufacturing and distribution, crushed stone aggregates and asphalt paving, recycling, tanning supply distribution, manufacturing, software and website development, property management and juice concentrate manufacturing and distribution.

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The Times Journal is a weekly newspaper issued on Thursdays. It was first published on October 13, 1949, by Andrew J. and Terry Norfleet.
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