At BJ's Wholesale Club in Natick, it's very much "Back to the Future."
Since Herb Zarkin emerged from retirement at the end of 2006 to take the reins at the struggling discounter, a job he last held in the early 1990s, it's been back to basics at BJ's.
The 69-year-old chief executive immediately made the back of the store his top priority. He slashed prices on traffic-driving staples such as milk and butter, which were no longer competitive with larger warehouse rivals Sam's Club and Costco. The company shaved its store hours, operating from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. instead of 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and invested the savings into getting better produce, dairy, fresh meats, and baked goods and making sure these more profitable items stayed stocked.
Zarkin's efforts quickly paid off: The perishables business was up 3 percent in the first quarter and jumped to 8 percent by the fourth quarter. The company rang up $9 billion in revenue, up 6.2 percent from the previous year, and improved its profit margin by 23 percent.
"It was really a year of getting back to blocking and tackling, getting back to the basics of running the business," Zarkin says.