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Customer interaction top priority for Smith's manager

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Retail > Erik Boehm brings in a long history of experience

By Arin McKenna

You won’t find Smith’s Marketplace Director Erik Boehm sitting in his office unless there is some bit of business that absolutely requires it.
“I hate my office, plain and simple. I’ve always been like that,” Boehm said.
Boehm spends most of his 11- to 12-hour days out on the floor working with team members or assisting customers.
“I love having that personal connection with my customers, especially in small towns like this,” said Boehm, who enjoys engaging in conversations that range from neighborly small talk to helping someone looking for advice on shopping for a healthier diet. “That’s really the best part of my day every single day. You get a chance to touch a lot of people. You affect a lot of lives, and hopefully for the better.”
Building a team may be the favorite part of Boehm’s job.
“What I enjoy most — and I know the day I don’t answer that question this way, that’s the day I need to leave what I do — is my team. I love my teams. I love creating a team and coaching and training and developing my teams. I love the reaction or the look or the sense of pride you see when you teach somebody new or you say, ‘Congratulations, we’re going to promote you.’ I love watching them have a great interaction with the customer.
“There’s a lot of stress that goes with the job, and the stress kind of fades away when you’re showing somebody something for the first time or you’re saying, ‘This was great. You had a great interaction with this customer.’ Then the stress and the pressure of everything just kind of disappears. It doesn’t seem so important.”
That is not to say that it was not a challenge building a team of 340 people, with more than 200 of those new to Smith’s. Boehm’s previous teams ranged from 180 to 200 people.
“When you have 350 team members to train and coach, it really challenges you, really broadens your horizon. You get more of a reciprocal effect,” Boehm said. “You get to teach them, and there are all those different personalities, so you get to learn from them, too. So that part’s fun, too.”
The 35-year-old Boehm, who was born and raised in Detroit, Mich., has a long history of working in retail. He was still in high school when he began working at Sam’s Club. From there he joined Costco, then did management training for Home Depot. Target recruited him for assistant store manager after he completed his bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in sociology.
Boehm was still living in Michigan when he joined Smith’s as an assistant manager in 2006. He moved to Colorado when he was promoted to store manager. Boehm has managed seven Smith’s stores and worked in nine total, in locations ranging from small towns like Steamboat Springs, Colorado, to metropolitan Denver, but none have compared to this experience.
Boehm moved to Los Alamos the first of May to take over the Marketplace, but spent a good five weeks traveling to prepare for the position: learning about apparel and visiting corporate offices in Salt Lake City, Utah, flying to New York for training with Murray’s Cheese and learning the ins and outs at a similar store in Phoenix.
“You’ve really got to be sort of a subject matter expert on everything before you open a new store. So they sent me traveling,” Boehm said.
The experts traveled to Los Alamos to train team members, since many things the Marketplace offers, such as pizza and a wine bar, are not found even in other Smith’s Marketplaces.
A team of culinary chefs employed by Smith’s flew in from Cincinnati. They experimented with adapting recipes to the altitude and climate as they trained employees for the deli. Construction workers were more than willing to sample the pizza trials.
Boehm learned right along with his employees. He enjoys taking on different roles.
“Anything in the store I would ask one of my associates to do, I will do the same thing, whether it’s cashiering or throwing freight or pushing carts,” Boehm said.
“With the storm that rolled through yesterday, we were worried about having carts in the parking lot, so I grabbed eight or 10 of us and we ran out and grabbed the carts and got it done.
“I usually close on Friday, so I was back there throwing pizzas the other night. It’s fun: get a hair net on, some gloves on and have at it.”
Boehm is pleased at being asked to open a new store, especially in a community such as Los Alamos.
“It’s always quite an honor to open a brand new store. As a company, there are 2,500 stores Kroger-wide, so that means there are only 2,500 people who have opened a brand new store over the course of our company,” Boehm said.
“I feel pretty blessed to have been given this opportunity. They put a lot of faith in us to try out new things that they’ve never done before.”
Now that Boehm is working only five or six days a week, instead of the 16 to 18 hour days seven days a week leading up to the opening, he and his fiancé, Melynda Roberts, are starting to find time to hike and golf and explore Los Alamos.
“It really is a great community: personally pleasing, visually pleasing,” Boehm said.
Boehm’s team will soon be put to the test. He and Roberts are getting married Sept. 19 and honeymooning in Mexico a week later. He is confident in his team’s ability to run the store smoothly in his absence.
“I have a great, great group of assistants that were all selected as the best of the best, all with high potentials. They’re very good at what they do. I’ve got to trust them, and I do. “They’re a very hardworking, strong, educated team. The store will be in good hands. I’m very confident of that,” Boehm said, adding that his confidence extends to department managers and his core team.