Phil St. Pierre and wife, Nancy, own Victor News, a downtown Lewiston staple in its 110th year. He’s the third generation in his family to head the convenience store/deli/home of almost everything.
1. What are some of the more “really, they have that?” among your 3,001 items and how do you decide if something doesn’t make the cut to stock it?
We hear “really, they have that?” often. The list is long, but here are some highlights:
Corks, rabbit food, flashlight replacement bulbs, needle threaders, shoe horns, CliffsNotes, pickle pickers, audio cassette tapes, Yahtzee score pads and more.
If a customer asks for an item that I can get, it winds up in stock. I enjoy stocking hard-to-find items. Another favorite customer saying is, “I should have checked here first and saved a lot of time not having to run around!”
2. The perks to being downtown?
We have hundreds of folks living and working in the downtown area. For that reason, we see lots of the same people every day. We get to know our customers by name and they get to know us. We are a busy store, but we always take the time to engage our customers (friends) in conversation. That provides for fun days and our time at work goes by quickly. So bottom line: . . . working downtown is fun.
3. The challenges?
We would love to see more people visit the downtown. Many Lewiston-Auburn residents recall a downtown landscape dating back to what may be considered the “dark” years. Their experiences from years ago have kept them away. The downtown is a vibrant community now. It is a vast improvement over where it was 10 years ago. The biggest challenge is trying to change perceptions. Once revisited, the new and improved downtown can be a pleasant part of everyone’s daily lives.
4. Policy or issue you’re following this summer at either the state or national level, and what impact could it have on your business?
The most expensive issue for my business is the Affordable Care Act. (I chuckle every time I say those three words. It’s the newest oxymoron.) I provide 100 percent medical insurance coverage for my employees and the premium costs are escalating at much higher levels under this new act. I just received my new rates effective Sept. 1 and I question how I will be able to continue to afford the premiums. Being a small business, I don’t have the bargaining power to negotiate lower rates. I feel that small businesses are charged higher rates in order to subsidize the lower rates insurance companies charge larger corporations.
5. The “9 to 5,” “The Meater Maid” and “The Big City Hauler.” What goes into your menu names, and do you think finding the right name affects sales?
Creating names for our specialty sandwiches transpired one Friday night at home. My wife, Nancy, and I remember it as sort of a game night. We came up with lots of names, some of which did not make the menu, but did make us laugh! You ask about the right name effecting sales; a prime example was “The Megabite.” If any of our menu names has affected sales, this would be the one. Victor News is known for selling winning Megabucks tickets (we’ve sold three), and this being our signature sandwich and extremely large, the name fit.
The “Park Street,” “North Bridge” and “Downtown Revitalization” refer to our location, but don’t let the “Meater Maid” name fool you. We have many free 15-minute parking spaces on both sides of the street or park free for one hour in the municipal parking garage directly across the street.
6. People love to turn out to Victor’s during the high-profile lottery draws, hoping to get the lucky ticket to strike it big. If you received a $1 million grant tomorrow, no strings attached, what would you invest it in?
First and foremost, after all taxes are paid, I would take a third of the money remaining and divide it among our employees, using a formula based on longevity of employment and hours worked. We are all like a family and I would have to share this type of windfall with them. Then I would take another third and invest it in the business. The last third would allow me to buy my wife a pizza in Italy. When our store received $30,000 for selling a winning Megabucks ticket back in 1995, I used two thirds of that jackpot for new coolers and one third for the employees. Beyond that, I bought my wife a pizza (it was a joke I made and was reported in the press). But with a million dollars, I think traveling for the pizza would be in order.
Six Questions For The CEO is a monthly feature on the faces and names that keep business interesting. Contact staff writer Kathryn Skelton at firstname.lastname@example.org