Two brothers

Tom Heinen holds up both hands in front of him. One mimics holding a softball-sized object, while the other mimics a tennis ball-sized object.

"Go to Wal-Mart and look at their produce. They buy little oranges," he says, holding the small, invisible orange in front of him.

"We buy big beautiful oranges," says Heinen while holding up the other hand. "We don’t sell the little ones. They are not a good value and it is not what we stand for. It is not what we believe our customers want."

Tom Heinen, along with twin brother Jeff, has carved out a niche for their 15-store chain that’s based on quality and customer service, the same principles their grandfather founded the business on in 1933. It’s no accident that Tom mentions Wal-Mart — more than any other business, Wal-Mart has taught consumers to shop on quantity and price.

In the commodity business of the food merchant, buy-one-get-one free, triple coupons and three-for-a-dollar offers fill weekly ads and in-store signs and dominate consumer buying decisions.

But the Heinen brothers have survived in the era of the mega-chain by counting on the fact that there is still a market for a community grocer who can deliver service, quality products, clean stores and fair prices.

"Jeff and I believe that customers are not stupid," says Heinen. "We think they are smart."

In a market dominated by Giant Eagle and Tops, both with hundreds of stores and a huge marketing budget, the family-owned Heinen’s chain is carving out a niche that aims for the educated consumer. Price is important, but the Heinen brothers think there is a market segment that is not driven by price alone.