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Liberty Foods owner Derrick Dar stands between rows of new, energy efficient freezers in his family’s grocery business. (Photo: Larry Doell of Doell Photography)
Liberty Foods owner Derrick Dar stands between rows of new, energy efficient freezers in his family’s grocery business. (Photo: Larry Doell of Doell Photography)

Rebates enervate store makeover

by - Story: 57936

By Bobbi-Sue Menard

After three years of a considered move to compete with Wal-Mart and create a more energy efficient operation, Liberty Foods in Fruitvale has completed the first part of an ongoing retrofit program. The results, say the owners, have been a bigger bang for the power consumption buck and an increase in customers and sales.

Liberty Foods has been owned and operated by the Dar family since 1957. Derrick Dar is the current operations manager and admits that being the main store in town for so long only took the company so far once big box competition showed up. “We are very fortunate to have a very loyal customer base, but we had to encourage our customers to come back once Wal-Mart arrived. We had to figure out our point of differentiation.”

The store and building had had no visible work done since 1987 it was showing its age. Five years ago, long before he spent a penny, Dar began an in-depth planning process, including consultations with FortisBC. Fortis did a free walk through audit of the store and made a series of energy efficiency recommendations. Lighting was a key area, as were the coolers and freezers. Going through the consultation process paid off in more than advice as Liberty Foods was able to access almost $12,000 in rebates from Fortis.

Out of necessity the first change Dar made was to the HVAC system and rooftop compressors. It was a choice customers couldn’t see, but Dar says had an impact on reliability. It wasn’t until Liberty replaced the lighting and store coolers that customers started to notice a difference in their direct experience. Liberty also invested in customer service training and a beautification program that included new lighting.

The old lighting had been warehouse style lighting – it was expensive to operate and left dim areas in the store. The all new T8 lighting is brighter, less expensive to run, and customers are happier. Says Dar, “Our old lighting didn’t even line up with the aisles properly. The result is quite bright and friendly.”

The deli, meat, dairy and produce sections all received new refrigeration units, replacing old style “coffin coolers.”

Essentially, every unit around the perimeter of the store was replaced. The sleek new units being the best design available in the industry, that not only look fresh and new, but involve substantial energy savings. The improved energy efficiency allowed Liberty to install more units for the same energy consumption.

There is still work to be done, says Dar. Sliding aluminum covers for the open coolers are next. With a quarter of a million dollars already spent on retro fits and solid results to show for it, he is confident the next steps will pay for themselves.

“Without the rebates from FortisBC I might have been more hesitant to get started, but in some cases where we have spent money we have seen an immediate return and we are able to invest that back into the company.”

“To gain customer confidence we had to show a willingness to invest on our part. Beyond that we had to step up our customer service game to go with the renovation.”

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