MARS HILL, Maine — Scott Carlin has been working in grocery stores for most of his life. Growing up in northern Maine, he stocked shelves at the first IGA owned by his grandfather, Win, and his two great uncles.
Carlin worked in IGA stores for 20 years with Vince Bernier, his mentor, before buying them. Today Carlin and his wife, Rena, own three IGA stores. They also are the winners of a prestigious global award that has only been given out twice before.
Officials with IGA announced recently that Scott and Rena Carlin and their employees had been named the recipients of the IGA Brand Development award, a global discretionary award granted to an IGA retailer, wholesaler or manufacturing partner who has demonstrated an outstanding contribution to helping IGA develop its brand.
The Carlins own Hillside IGA in Fort Fairfield, Mars Hill IGA in Mars Hill and Star City IGA in Presque Isle.
“I was very pleased when I heard the news, especially for our employees,” Scott Carlin said Monday. “I have the best employees and I am so proud of them. I hear great things about them all the time. They are very deserving of this.”
“All three of Scott and Rena Carlin’s IGA stores are the true embodiment of IGA community centers, but in this case they serve not just the people of those communities, but the Canadian citizens who cross the border to shop in these very successful IGA stores as well,” Mark Batenic, IGA CEO, said in a statement. “This dedicated husband and wife team has persevered through every retailing challenge, using IGA’s resources and community-focused image to build a strong and profitable business. IGA congratulates the Carlin family and their devoted team members for bringing the IGA brand to life with exceptional store quality, community activism, and personalized attention to ‘Hometown Proud’ customer service.”
Carlin said that besides his employees, a number of whom have worked for him for 20 years or more, several things set his store apart from others.
“I think that customer service is the main thing that sets us apart,” he said. “We still bag groceries for our customers, and we put up groceries and then deliver them free for our customers in assisted-living facilities.
“At our stores, our managers have all been with us for at least 20 years,” he continued. “They started bagging groceries and now they’re running the stores. I think that longevity has a lot to do with our success.”
In late 2011, Carlin also was named a 2012 IGA International Retailer of the Year finalist.
The Independent Grocers Alliance, or IGA, is the world’s largest voluntary supermarket network with aggregate worldwide retail sales of more than $31 billion per year. The alliance includes nearly 5,000 Hometown Proud IGA independent supermarkets worldwide, supported by 36 distribution centers and more than 55 major manufacturers, vendors and suppliers encompassing everything from grocery to equipment items. IGA has operations in 46 of the United States and more than 30 countries, commonwealths and territories on all six inhabited continents.
Carlin said, in terms of future goals, he plans to talk with the state Department of Environmental Protection about making changes to become more environmentally friendly so his stores can become state-certified green grocers. He said he has done a lot to set his stores apart from others.
“Gluten-free products are becoming a big thing now,” he said. “There are so many gluten-free products that are not labeled. We have gotten tags to label gluten-free products to better help our consumers.”
All of the Carlins’ stores also have been outfitted with new scanners and debit card machines.
The Carlins received the award in Las Vegas two weeks ago.