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ARCHIVED  November 5, 1999

Greeley grocer keeps business fresh

1999 Bravo! Entrepreneur - Greeley

GREELEY — John Todd Sr. took a circuitous route to the grocery business. As developer of Cottonwood Square shopping center at 23rd Avenue between 16th and 17th streets in Greeley back in the mid-’70s, Todd went shopping for a supermarket to fill what he saw as an essential part of the project. He was close to inking a deal with Safeway when, at the last minute, the grocery chain pulled out. No other chain was interested.

Back then, shopping centers were typically predictable and plain, and Cottonwood Square promised to be anything but. That the design of the center put emphasis on the interior of the project rather than the exterior — where store recognition would jump out at passersby — may have dissuaded the major grocery chains.

But no matter, Todd and his family decided to open their own grocery store. They called it Toddy’s. And they haven’t looked back since.

“He decided he would try and do it himself. He proceeded to build the store in Greeley, hired good people to run it, and it worked,´ said Todd’s son, Mick Todd, president of the company since 1987. But rather than copy what was being built at the time, Todd chose to build an upscale store, complete with a deli, scratch bakery, and fresh meats and produce.

The 37,500-square-foot Greeley store opened in February 1977. A year later, Todd was approached by Gene Mitchell, the Fort Collins developer largely responsible for development in Old Town, to do the same thing in Fort Collins. The 47,500-square-foot Fort Collins store opened in the summer of 1980 in Scotch Pines shopping center at Drake Road and Lemay Avenue. The store was a success in Fort Collins as well.

So if Greeley and Fort Collins were working so well, why not try Denver? “In 1984 and ’85, we were convinced by our supplier to try and do a super upscale store in Denver,” Mick Todd said. “It was the finest store I’ve ever seen.”

In the grocery business, as in all businesses, timing is everything. The store opened in 1986 in The Orchards shopping center in south Denver, right about when the economy tanked. “We tried to make it work for three years. It didn’t work. We sold it back to our supplier and came back up here and concentrated on these stores,” Todd said.

It would be seven more years before the Todds would build their fourth store, this one in Berthoud.

Todd describes the Colorado grocery market as a “dog-eat-dog” business.

“You get beat up, and you make it through and do some creative things,” he said. “People still want someone who tends to their needs. The huge cookie-cutter approach doesn’t cut it all the time.” Competition is especially keen in Colorado, where 97 percent of the business is cornered by the large chain stores, including King Soopers, Albertsons and Safeway, all of which are in the top 10 nationally.

“We have to be real careful,” Todd said. “You can run a good operation, but we don’t have the capital that the big chains do,”

Making room for all of the new products introduced weekly, when space is limited, is a challenge as well.

Though Toddy’s was one of the first to enter the upscale grocery market in Northern Colorado, others have caught on to the concept, including the chains.

“In general, we have seen stores become more upscale,” Todd said. “In the mid-’70s, they didn’t have delis or bakeries; now I’ve seen chain stores as nice as any upscale store of 25 years ago.”

So to stay ahead of the competition, Toddy’s prides itself on the quality of its perishables, including produce and meats; along with its deli and bakery.

“We aren’t the biggest,” Todd said, but when it comes to food and pharmacy, “We’re the best, especially with service.”

From the beginning, the Todds have been believers in giving back to the community. “We have always been strong community supporters,” Todd said. “We’re local, and we feel we have a good understanding of the needs of the communities we operate in.”

One of the company’s biggest contributions is its 1 percent rebate to charitable organizations that sign up for the program. Todd said the rebates average $40,000 per community. Toddy’s is a “big” United Way supporter and also lends support to other prominent organizations in each community, such as orchestras and hospital foundations. “I feel real good about how much we give back,” Todd said.

The Todd family also makes a point of donating their time to worthy causes, by serving on community boards and being involved in various organizations.

Todd, who has his law degree, didn’t plan to work for his father, but said it has worked out well. “I like working with my Dad,” he said.” He’s real creative and involved in a lot of different things. At the time I went to work for him, he was just getting into it. We didn’t know we’d be in it 23 years.”

A seven handicapper, John Todd, though retired, continues to stay active in the company. “He’s involved as much as he likes,” his son said. Two daughters, Dayna Beddingfield of Greeley and Ellin Todd of Boulder, are owners but not actively involved in the company.

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