Scott MacNellis and his wife Emily own LaLonde’s Market. With a long history in Midland and being a business well-known for creative marketing techniques, videos, and customer and staff-inspired specials, LaLonde’s has captured the hearts of many. Scott sat down with us to talk about the business, being a former vegetarian who now owns a meat market, and much more.
Q: Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and the history of LaLondes?
A: Absolutely! The family business started in 1958 by Charles and Joyce LaLonde, who were Emily’s grandparents. The first location was at Bay City Road and Saginaw Road by Dow. They bought the Jefferson and Sugnet Location from John Swanson in 1980. At that time Steve LaLonde (my father in law) took over the business from his father Charles.
I started working at the stores in 2000 as a second job when I also took a job with Midland Public Schools as an art teacher at Central Middle School. In 2002 I left teaching and went to work full time with Steve LaLonde running the Jefferson Road location with the plan to take over the family business in the future. In 2012, my wife Emily and I bought that location from Steve. He continued to own the original Bay City Road location until 2016 before selling it to another independent operator.
Some fun facts about me include working construction from high school and all throughout college. I was a vegetarian for nine years and never originally had any aspirations of owning a butcher shop or meat market. I love my job because I still get to work with younger, entry-level employees, and we focus on teaching good work ethics. I am also able to be creative when promoting the business. We are truly a family.
Q: Do you enjoy cooking as a hobby, and if so, what are your favorite dishes?
A: I do NOT enjoy cooking. My wife Emily, however, is an amazing cook. My 10-year-old son Joe loves to cook as well. I just love to eat. I rely on my family to tell me what they did to make our meals so fabulous. My customers are also eager to share cooking tips. Many of them are foodies. I don’t invent great recipes very often, I usually am passing on someone else’s success story.
Q: Where does inspiration for your custom recipes? Has there been a customer request that became a hit?
A: In 2002 our value-added section was about 3’ wide. We had some brats and had just put in about four different marinades. In the summer, we made a couple of kabobs here and there, but we were still a traditional meat market. I was newly married and working two jobs trying to start a family. I saw a shift in our culture where both mom and dad had full time jobs, and younger families were not able to put as much time into prepping dinner anymore. So around that time we started to expand our value added section of the case. I started trying to come up with different and inventive brat, sausage and burger recipes that would help our customers cook great meals at home without having to do the work.
We now have 15 flavors of marinated chicken breasts, four beef pinwheels, 31 different burger flavors, and 46 brat flavors. The count is still growing. If a staff member or customer has a suggestion we gladly welcome them! My staff has come up with most of our value-added menu. They make small batches and try things out.
Q: Picanha was a special customer request that has really taken off and become a hit. Can you please tell us more about that?
A: Well, a gentleman named Manuel (Manny) Borges worked at Dow and came to me to try and increase offerings in our store for international individuals working in Midland (mostly at Dow) so that they could feel a little more at home. Manny went through a butcher’s diagram of a steer and a pig and circled all the most popular cuts of beef and pork from Brazil. We cannot offer all of them all of the time, as our space is very limited, but Manny will always have a special place in my heart for opening my eyes to carrying Picanha, Fraldinha, Costella, Baccala (Fish), Cachaca (Liquor), and dabbling in new specials to keep our international friends happy.
Q: How often does the business come out with new cut, burger, brat, dish or special flavor?
A: We try to get in special requests, but most are not as popular as Picanha. It is very scary to open up and spend money and time expanding these items not knowing if customers will truly buy what they say they will buy. We have been hung with items that move really slowly because we brought them in for such a small sample audience, and they just didn’t go. We will gladly listen to anyone and any suggestion, so feel free to reach out!
Q: Where did the idea for fun hats come from for special events and holidays?
A: Well, the turkey hats were first. When I started in 2000 we had a record year of selling 176 fresh turkeys at Thanksgiving. I was determined to build on that business. I could only take it so far by myself. We saw small increases each year for about 4-5 years. Then Jeremy Fortier came to the store. I asked him to help me figure out a way to encourage all the staff to actively sell turkeys and build the business. Through many conversations he and I found that the biggest problem was getting the employees to participate. I don’t know if it was embarrassing or if they were too cool to put in the extra effort, but the fact was that they just refused to actively talk about turkeys to customers. The “wait and see if they ask” method of sales does not work for me!
So Jeremy and I put a turkey hat on their heads! This prompted the customers to ask the employees about turkeys instead. It worked! As long as I participate and wear the hats myself, the staff doesn’t mind too much and the customers ask about them. We even sell an average of 100 turkey hats each year to customers who think they are fun. Our turkey business has grown and we now need a semitrailer to hold them all! We made a new record last year with 980 fresh turkeys!
Q: What's the best thing about running a family owned market?
A: My favorite part of running a family business is the freedom to set my own agenda. I get to be creative with my selection and recipes. I get to put effort into training new employees the concepts and work skills that I am passionate about. I love my customers and I adore my staff. I don’t have to answer to a corporation or anyone but my family. If I see things slipping at times – like human interaction and customer service, I can focus on what I want to when training my staff. I can give my customers the experiences they deserve without having to cut through a bunch of red tape. My family is where it begins and ends and I love that freedom.