Bernie Kenny has never been one to coast on accomplishments. Having grown ShopRite from two stores to six over the past quarter-century, the U.S. Army veteran has no tolerance for complacency.
“What’s my greatest accomplishment? I don’t have one,” Kenny says plainly. He believes that ShopRite could have a greater market share, and laments the perception that ShopRite is a value-driven brand first and foremost, rather than one recognized most for its consistent quality or variety. To Bernie Kenny, there is always a problem to tackle.
Kenny credits this outlook to his military roots. After enlisting in the Army at 16 and serving in the 101st Airborne Division Screaming Eagles, Kenny returned to New Jersey and the U.S. Army Reserve at 21. He needed a job, and so he accepted a part-time gig with ShopRite.
“ShopRite told me that if I came on, maybe down the road, I could have my own store,” Kenny recalls. Eventually, an ownership opportunity did arise. “Two losing stores came up, and I took them. They were losing a lot of money, but I didn’t care.”
[caption id="attachment_216852" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] The Kenny family within one of their Delaware ShopRite locations. | PHOTO COURTESY OF KENNY FAMILY MARKETS[/caption]
After Kenny secured a loan to purchase the stores, Kenny Family Supermarkets was in business. Twenty-five years later, Bernie Kenny’s little family business employs over 1000 people, around 70 of whom have been with ShopRite for 20 years or more. Kenny refers to these employees — “my people”— when accounting for ShopRite’s longevity.
Melissa Kenny — currently the Executive Vice President of Kenny Family ShopRites of Delaware — can’t overlook Bernie’s own role in ShopRite’s success. She understands how integral Bernie Kenny’s charity, in particular, has been to the brand’s growth and stability.
“My dad and Uncle Rich [Kenny, who has played an integral role in ShopRite’s growth] taught us that as soon as we stop giving, the community can do the same,” Melissa Kenny explains.
[caption id="attachment_216850" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Some of the staff of Kenny Family Markets. | PHOTO COURTESY OF KENNY FAMILY MARKETS[/caption]
Chris Kenny, Bernie’s son and current CEO and President of ShopRite, also recalls his father’s many investments in both employees and local communities. He recounts how Bernie replaced gear stolen from the Boy Scouts, arranged complex dental care for an employee who was ashamed of her imperfect smile, and airlifted a pharmacist’s wife to the hospital when pregnancy complications arose—each act unprompted, and each paid for by Bernie without any expectation of recompense.
Chris also understands Bernie’s incessant focus on unresolved problems rather than his own accomplishments or good deeds. The younger Kenny notes that supermarkets run in the family’s bloodstream, with the next generations of Kennys also working in various departments around the stores.
“There’s something about working in the supermarket business [that requires] a constant nervous energy. You always know when you see a legacy supermarket entrepreneur. There’s just an overwhelming amount of vigor, of interaction with people, the ability to communicate with various demographics, and that’s something that’s delivered [by my father].”
Chris marvels at his father’s “dynamism,” a skillful ability to interact deftly with “associates, management, executives, suppliers, vendors, new customers, and long-time customers.” These are qualities that Chris still aims to replicate as he has taken on greater responsibility within ShopRite.
[caption id="attachment_216848" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] An recently remodeled Kenny Family ShopRite in Delaware. | PHOTO COURTESY OF KENNY FAMILY MARKETS[/caption]
Indeed, Bernie Kenny’s management acumen is well-established. For many, including employees, community members, and his own family, it is Kenny’s generosity that continues to shine brightest, though. This legacy of giving remains most prominent as ShopRite turns the corner on the quarter-century mark.
Even Bernie admits to this legacy, albeit unwittingly. Asked what aspect of supermarket ownership he has most enjoyed, Bernie Kenny doesn’t hesitate: “Growing people. Helping people. What you look for are those in need. You take care of those in need first.”