Fourth Generation Creating A New Kind of Klein’s
Growth is coming to the Klein’s ShopRite supermarket chain, but not the growth you might expect when the great-grandkids get their turn to lead.
“I could think that if my father built us to seven stores, for me to be successful I need to grow us to 20,” says Marshall Klein, chief operating officer. “As I get older, I’m more concerned with the type of business we run, where people are valued as people, in our stores and in the communities where we operate.”
Heady words for a 31-year-old. He grew up in the family business, though, working high school and college jobs in the dairy and meat departments, and as an assistant store manager during his law school years. Marshall Klein has the perspective to back his views and, like the other fourth-generation Kleins active in the family business, the experience to back his leadership.
The Klein family’s food business began in 1927 when Sarah and Maurice Klein bought a small general store in Fallston. Maurice bought the store specifically to be in business with his son, Ralph. Maurice closed shop when his son was drafted to serve during World War II. When Ralph came home, though, he was ready to get back to work.
“He bought a Forest Hill food store that was for sale and ran it with his own sons, Andrew, Michael and Howard,” Marshall Klein says.
Thirty years later, the corner market was showing its age, and size. Ralph and his sons built a new 40,000-square-foot store at 2101 Rock Spring Road in Forest Hill, which has been expanded over the years and is now more than 58,000. That move led Ralph and his sons to realize they could expand their one-store empire.
In 1983, Klein and sons took over an existing supermarket in Bel Air. In 1986, they acquired an Aberdeen gravel pit, turning the site into a family-owned shopping center anchored by a Klein’s food market. In 1989, they opened a Klein’s in the Festival at Bel Air, and in 1992, a Klein’s in Riverside.
With more than 800 employees in seven stores, Klein’s ShopRite food markets are now the fourth-largest private employer in Harford County, and the seventh-largest employer overall.
“The Kleins are a great local business family,” says Jim Richardson, director of the Harford County Office of Economic Development. “One thing people miss is that the Kleins give young people their first jobs. This work experience is valuable, and they have helped many kids attend college or buy their first car.”
In 2001, after a 10-year expansion hiatus, the Kleins opened two stores, each hinting at the growth envisioned by the family’s fourth generation. The Cardiff store replaced a bankrupt food market. The Jacksonville Klein’s ShopRite was their first in Baltimore County.
“As a family, we’ve always been cautious investors,” Marshall Klein says. “When it’s a family business you don’t have other people’s money to bail you out. You go slowly.”
Perhaps that’s why the chain took its time affiliating with a cooperative. In 2009, Klein’s joined Wakefern, the country’s largest retailer-owned food cooperative whose stores operate under the ShopRite name.
The cooperative joins 46 independent food retailers who operate more than 250 stores in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland. These stores, including Klein’s food markets, offer more than 3,000 products bearing the ShopRite label, priced to compete with nationally advertised brands.
“To give up our independence was a big thing,” Marshall Klein says. “It’s enabled us to expand and to offer programs that resonate with the consumer, better technology, better buying power, recycling programs, coordinated corporate giving programs … programs we could never develop on our own. It’s one thing to want to expand, but it’s another to have the programming to be successful enoughto expand.”
A New Kind of Klein’s
In June, the eighth store in the Klein’s ShopRite chain opened in Parkville, a Baltimore County town of about 31,000 where the median income is about $41,000. The move could be called risky, because a handful of stores – including supermarkets – have shuttered their doors in what some consider a high crime area.
“Our focus for new stores is to locate in food-challenged areas, where people don’t have access to fresh food. I’ve learned we can give just by being,” Marshall Klein says.
“In the traditional suburban food market, you have lots of options and nice, new stores. What we are seeing is that there are large areas where this doesn’t happen. The closest ‘food desert’ to us is Baltimore City,” he says. “People drive miles to go to a grocery store. People aren’t provided options in these communities. They have no access to healthy food. And when they do, the pricing and selection are not competitive.”
This vision is the hallmark of Klein’s fourth-generation leaders, a 30-something cohort that comprises his sister, Sarah Klein, and cousin Stephen Klein. The vision is backed by Ralph’s sons, Andrew, Michael and Howard Klein, who remain very active in operating the family business. The concept for a new kind of Klein’s ShopRite even has the blessing of Shirley and Ralph Klein, octogenarians who cut the ribbon at the Parkville grand opening.
In 2013, the largest Klein’s ShopRite is slated to open in Baltimore’s Howard Park community. Site demolition is underway, with ground to be broken in August for a 67,659-square-foot, $13 million supermarket.
The Howard Park market will feature fresh produce and meats, a florist, a bakery and pharmacy, and new innovative offerings like grocery and pharmacy delivery, a nurse practitioner, an office to determine public assistance eligibility and two meeting rooms for meetings like those held by the Howard Park Civic Association.
Preston Greene, president of the HPCA, described a long struggle, stymied by the City’s three administration changes and the economic recession, to bring a supermarket back to Howard Park.
“We have a high percentage of elders. When they have to walk blocks and blocks in 95-degree heat … well, this will make all the difference. It was too important to quit,” Greene says, noting that Howard Klein attends the HPCA’s monthly meetings to keep the community informed.
Will Beckford, managing director of commercial revitalization for the Baltimore Development Corp., worked on the project for the City.
“There formerly was a store at the site, but it went defunct 12 to 14 years ago. The City acquired the property and land and put out an RFP for a developer, who then looked for a grocer,” says Beckford. “The demographics clearly showcased the need. This was a grassroots effort and the Klein family has been great in helping make this happen.”
Beckford noted that the store is expected to employ about 250 people from the community.
Location Also Drives Klein’s Philanthropy
“Communities support our business, so we have an obligation to support the community. It’s not our money; it’s the community’s money,” Marshall Klein says.
The Klein family, through the Ralph and Shirley Klein Foundation, ShopRite’s Partners in Caring Program and in-store requests, has returned millions to the communities where they do business.
In the past three years, the family donated land for Upper Chesapeake Hospital’s residential hospice and seed money to fund a fourth scholarship program at Harford Community College, as well as addressed needs large and small of 119 community organizations. I95