Serving the Midland community for over 65 years, LaLonde’s Market stands as a testament of what it means to own a family business. For Scott and Emily (LaLonde) MacNellis, third-generation owners, everything from the hours they work, the people they employ, the philosophies they hold, and the high quality products they sell supports that example.
Scott & Emily MacNellis, owners of LaLonde's Market
While Emily does most of her work at home, handling the marketing, finance and advertising aspects of the store, Scott is the face of the store, managing the people and the place. Scott says he’d be bankrupt without Emily, and Emily says they would have no employees or vendors who liked them if she ran the store. “It’s the Yin and Yang that works for us,” Scott says.
Both Scott and Emily have art degrees from Western Michigan University; Scott was previously a middle-school art teacher while Emily has a degree in Industrial Design. These skills translate into strengths that support the market. Emily says, “Scott treats the younger employees like they’re his own children”.
“I hire high school kids and teach them how to be employees. Maybe this is their first job or maybe they haven’t been able to get one. I take them on and I get attached, thinking I can do something. I’m an eternal optimist,” he says.
Lila Barkley, cashier at LaLonde's
Cashier Lila Barkley who attended both Midland and Dow High School is one such employee. She says she loves the job, including her co-workers, the customers and Scott and Emily. “This job has made me more of a people person,” she says. “I can talk to anyone now, whereas I couldn’t before. Scott’s helping me do better.”
LaLonde’s employs 30 people on average, depending on the season, with the majority between the ages of 18-25. Some, however, have more experience, including store manager Kathleen Murphy.
Murphy, previously an employee at a local big-box store, says she was losing her identity there. At LaLonde’s, she says she is appreciated for her work and likes the family-oriented approach. “I like the personal attention [given to employees and customers]; it makes a difference. Plus the meat and the produce are the best.”
Kathleen Murphy, store manager of LaLonde's Market
While Lalonde’s has many companies they buy from, Emily says it’s not about who or at what cost, but rather it’s about who carries what we want.
“You get consistency in every product here. You get the same steak and it’s good. The quality is better than any place else,” she says. Plus, “we’re very picky about Gerber chicken; only a couple of suppliers have it.”
It’s that high quality customers have come to expect of LaLonde’s Market. Kandis Pritchett and her husband Bill have been shopping there for over 30 years. The store’s proximity to their home and the wide variety of items stocked play a role in that, but Pritchett says, “The quality of their meat is a huge draw for us.”
Pritchett, a retired Midland Public Schools educator, says, “LaLonde’s has always attracted friendly employees who act as if they appreciate and value your business. It’s also nice to see former students working at the meat counter.”
Matt Corcoran, meat manager at LaLonde's Market
Matt Corcoran has been the meat manager since 2010 and says he likes that his job has something different every day, a different project and different customers. “It gives variety and makes things interesting,” he says. Corcoran joined LaLonde’s in 2006 and says Steve LaLonde, Emily’s dad, gave him the opportunity to cut meat. But it was long-time LaLonde’s mainstay Bill Albritton who was his mentor and “taught him everything.”
Corcoran says he’s allowed a lot of freedom to be creative. “Whether it’s an idea for a recipe, a brat, or a marinade, I’m encouraged to do it,” he says. “It makes it more enjoyable to be an individual in a store versus a corporate entity.”
According to Scott, 35 percent of their business is the meat counter, with dairy, grocery, seafood, deli and produce rounding out about 8 percent each. Everything else (beer, soft drinks, wine, liquor, bakery items and frozen foods) make up the remaining products LaLonde’s sells.
Scott posing with the market's original safe.
Successful sales, however, don’t just happen without a vision. Beyond being a neighborhood meat market selling both the basics and gourmet items, LaLonde’s has what Scott calls “value-added” products. He credits this to the time when he and Emily were starting a family and were working full-time at other jobs in addition to the market. “We were very busy,” Scott says. “I started seasoning and marinating at the store so I didn’t have to do it at home for myself. If you add value to a basic component, it becomes worth more.” He says, “Value-added speaks to a lot of people because they can make a cool meal that tastes amazing.” LaLonde’s value-added products include marinated chicken and pork tenderloin, homemade brats (over 60 recipes), kabobs, meatloaf, meatballs and specialty burgers. “Our black and blue burgers are killer,” Emily says, and “last year we had a ‘Patty Mahomes’ burger for the SuperBowl.”
It’s this kind of creativity and fun-spiritedness that Scott and Emily believe is important to their success. Scott says the peak grilling season of summer naturally attracts customers as does Thanksgiving and Christmas, but during the other months, “We have to create holidays or participate in them.” In February, for example, LaLonde’s has a throwback meat sale where employees wear 1950s clothing. The event showcases prime cuts with prices ‘thrownback’ as well. They also sell bacon ‘rose’ bouquets for Valentine’s Day. “Last year we did 180 dozen bouquets,” Scott says.
Flexibility and adaptability have played a role in keeping the store thriving. During COVID when toilet paper became difficult to get, Scott went to all of the hotels in town and bought all of their backstock. “We never ran out,” he says. And the only ketchup they could find was in food-service quantities from Gordon’s, not in prepackaged shelf containers. So they packaged it themselves and learned how to make their own barcodes.
Stocking produce at LaLonde's.
Being smaller than grocery chains, LaLonde’s did very well in 2020 because as Scott puts it, “we were not as scary,” plus “people were not going out to eat but instead ate at home.” He says it was by far the best sales year they’ve ever had. This extra cash was not only passed along to the employees, but was also reinvested into the store with new floors, metro shelving, compressors, coolers and a refaced storefront.
Infrastructure is important, but Scott says it’s more about quality, fair prices and most of all providing outstanding customer service. “Anybody can sell garbage to a person one time, but they won’t come back.”
Emily says the majority of customers used to be from age 40 - 65, but that is changing as they have seen a swing toward more millennials. “They are about buying local, clean eating and being healthy,” she says. “We appeal to people who appreciate better,” as in “we’re not selling the cheapest things.” Although not wanting to pigeon-hole their customer demographic, she says, “Our audience is Midland.”