By Mark Wineka
Someone pinch Ralph Ketner and Wilson Smith and tell them it’s not a dream.
Fifty years ago, along with Brown Ketner, they were calling everyone in the Salisbury telephone book and asking them to invest in their planned grocery store on West Innes Street.
How could they have known that one store would grow into one of the larger supermarket chains in the country and make millionaires out of scores of their original investors.
Food Lion LLC honored its past Monday by dedicating a state-of-the-art Customer Support Center on Harrison Road and naming the building’s spacious auditorium “Founders Hall” in honor of Ralph Ketner, Wilson Smith and the late Brown Ketner.
Rick Anicetti, president and chief executive officer, said Food Lion has “a very important history ó one we’re proud of.”
“We want to continue investing in this location that we call home,” he said.
Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz said it was difficult to put into words what Food Lion has meant to Salisbury, from its founders, to its employees, to its stockholders.
Together, they created “a culture of giving,” Kluttz said, “and there’s no way to describe what has come from that.”
The most recent thing Food Lion the company has contributed to the community and its employees is the 125,000-square-foot Customer Support Center, a gleaming, $26 million facility rising off Harrison Road and providing a home for human resource and accounting operations.
Founders Hall can house stadium seating for roughly 550 people and is designed to provide conference-type space for Food Lion employees such as district, floor and store managers coming to Salisbury for meetings and training.
In the past, Food Lion often has gone out of town to places such as Grandover Resort in Greensboro or the Cabarrus Country Arena to accommodate the types of employee gatherings it will now be able to handle in Founders Hall.
Wilson Smith, Ralph Ketner and Jeff Ketner (Brown’s son), participated in Monday’s unveiling of giant photographs of the three founders that will be positioned outside the auditorium with a plaque in their honor.
Anicetti also presented them with crystal vases and Food Lion insignia pins for them and their family members.
Founders Hall can provide dining for up to 250 or be divided into four separate rooms, all with the best audio and video equipment available.
The support center provides another Food Lion first ó a full-service company cafeteria that offers breakfast, lunch and soon (by employee demand) take-home dinners.
It offers both balcony and outside eating areas.
Food Lion gave tours through the new support center Monday afternoon after a ribbon-cutting in the lobby and the separate dedication of Founders Hall.
The building includes 22 conference rooms, 10 rest rooms, break and “collaborative” areas, “minimobile” automated mail delivery, spacious work stations and cubicles, five award walls, a catering area and kitchen, various kiosks, strong attention to mission statements and “The Fridge.”
The Fridge, meant to be used in the same way people use their refrigerators at home as bulletin boards, takes up much of a first-floor wall and provides a good place for the company to post announcements or individuals to brag about their families.
Magnets provide the adhesive.
The support center’s lobby often will work without a receptionist. Visitors instead will use a touch-screen kiosk to signal their arrival and find directions on where to go next. (Employees use a separate entrance.)
Many walls are used to restate the company’s vision, purpose and strategies in big, bold letters.
Many of the rooms have walls that are movable, providing for lots of flexibility in spaces.
Smaller developmental training rooms can house 25 to 50 field associates at a time, all with the necessary computer hookups.
“These rooms are something we desperately needed for our field associates,” said Food Lion’s Clarence Ballard, giving one of the tours.
Ballard also showed off the exterior shades on windows that are controlled by a solar clock, giving the office work areas the right amount of natural light and the least amount of glare.
For this building, once a one-story perishable warehouse, Food Lion has applied for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification through the U.S. Green Building Counsel.
The minimobile mail cart runs along an invisible track under the carpet and makes its stops at offices and cubicles throughout the building.
The award walls display many of the honors Food Lion has received through its company and employee contributions to organizations such as Second Harvest, CART SMART, Children’s Miracle Network, St. Jude’s Hospital, Muscular Dystrophy Association, United Way, Project Safe Place, Special Olympics, Toys for Tots and more.
Since 1957, Food Lion ó now a subsidiary of Belgium-based Delhaize Group ó has grown to 1,287 stores in 11 states. It has some 73,000 employees.
In Salisbury, the company’s headquarters include about 1,200 associates, of which 450 have moved or will move to the new support center. The company also plans to renovate its original facility off Executive Drive a floor at a time.
“Now we have 800 jealous people at the other office,” Anicetti said.
Anicetti acknowledged that the company has not kept up with its support structures. Food Lion commissioned a study, he said, that showed it provided space per employee in its office facilities equivalent to what one would find in a call center.
For the support center, company officials gave particular credit to its architect, Little Diversified Architectural Consulting, and its contractor, R.T. Dooley, which also has overseen Food Lion’s IT Center construction and mailroom expansion.
Pierre-Oliver Beckers, president and chief executive officer of Delhaize Group, said none of Food Lion’s growth would have been possible without the foundation laid by the three founders.
While Delhaize and its American partners, particularly Ralph Ketner, have had some disputes in the past, one thing never in question was the great respect Delhaize had for the founders, Beckers said.
A strong message of thanks to all Food Lion employees and credit to a higher being pervaded many of the remarks given by Ralph Ketner, Wilson Smith and Jeff Ketner, on behalf of his father.
The Food Lion story is one of faith, trust, God’s helping hand and the support of family and friends, Smith said.
And everyone in the room agreed, if Brown Ketner could have been on hand Monday afternoon, there would have been no need for additional entertainment. Brown Ketner died in 1994.
Family members in attendance with Ralph Ketner Monday included his wife, Anne, son Robert Ketner and daughter Linda Ketner; Ronnie and Tim Smith attended with their father, Wilson; and the late Brown Ketner’s daughters, Marsha Carter and Betty Scruggs, were in the audience with brother Jeff.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Mark Wineka