Friday, July 27, 2012

Paul Helton, a Kroger man


This is one in a series of articles on how individuals have traveled to Paris to live.

Paul Helton

I first met Paul Helton in our local Kroger store.  He was a kind, soft spoken man who helped me with my groceries as we visited about his journey to Paris.  Paul  has a long history with Kroger but only recently as an employee.  He grew up in Iuka, Mississippi, named after the Indian Chief who is buried there under an old bank building.  It’s a small town of 2500 inhabitants and had a Kroger storefront on the town square.  His parents had always enjoyed the Spotlight coffee sold by Kroger and would even talk about Mr. Kroger as if he were a family member.

After college, Paul and his wife, Carol, moved to Pasadena, Texas where they raised their two sons and taught for 30 years.  Paul liked teaching history and Carol elementary school.  Fortunately for the family tradition, a Kroger store was nearby.  They appreciated the familiar store lay-out and its convenience.  When retirement loomed, Paul and Carol decided to move to Paris as they had discussed for many years.  Carol’s mother was from Pattonville and she still had loads of cousins and their families around.  They had visited over the years and found it friendly and easy to be among family.  And, there was a Kroger store.

Soon after their move to Lamar County in August of 2007, Paul was requesting some of his dental care items from the manager at Kroger who ordered them immediately.  The manager even offered him a job in customer service which meant he would assist in restocking goods but primarily have direct contact with customers by bagging groceries and loading them into cars.

Paul decided to take the job even though he would easily be the oldest one working that position.    He wanted to stay healthy and he missed contact with people. This job would provide more interaction with customers of all ages.  Kroger is a unionized company and associates have the opportunity to join.  But Paul made sure I knew it wasn’t a radical union.  Its agreements treat workers fairly and he is comfortable with paying the dues to the UFCW.  The higher pay also helps bring stability to the staffs of Kroger stores.

The Kroger store in Paris draws from a large area.  Paul has enjoyed visiting with people from Commerce and the university there.  Many others come from Oklahoma.  Since I always carry my own bags, I asked him how many customers do the same.  He estimated 5% bring their bags even though many more buy them but never use them.

It’s no surprise that Paul could find a Kroger store wherever he lived.  Paris’ store is number 957 and one of over 2500 Kroger stores in 31 states.  Begun in 1883 by Barney Kroger in downtown Cincinnati, his company has had to reinvent itself over the last 129 years.  Mr. Kroger wouldn’t recognize the size of his stores today, their quality control, in-store pharmacies, electronic scanners, and consumer research.  Sales at its flower departments make the company the world’s largest florist.  And Mr. Kroger would be surprised his company owns one of the country’s largest privately owned truck fleets that moves between Kroger distribution centers and stores.   Kroger has continued the founder’s in house manufacturing of store name products to better compete.

Paul is in good company as a store clerk.  The president of Kroger,  W. Rodney McMullen, started as a part-time clerk in 1978 and has worked his way to the top position.  Paul has no interest in promotions.  What he does like is the company’s emphasis on customer service.  He says, “Kroger believes in taking care of the customer.”  One way is a number on your receipt that can be called to give an opinion on the service received.

Most retired teachers are happy to enjoy all of their new found free time.  Paul Helton is different.  He needs more interaction with people in a supportive environment.  He found that in Paris with an old friend - Kroger.

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