When Ralph Malicki was told he was chosen as our 2012 Patch Person of the Year, he thanked us but said there are a lot more people who deserve this recognition.
"This is really cool, but I know a lot of other people who deserve it more than I do," he said.
Jeff Gesler, general manager, warned us that Malicki would say that.
"He just doesn't want any credit for all the good he's doing here," Gesler said. "But, Ralph has a very strong focus on us all being involved in the community in one way or another. Between the boards he sits on and the small group meetings he has some of us going to on a weekly or monthly basis, we are very involved."
Contributing to community
Malicki owns and operates the Piggly Wiggly on Washington Avenue, and making a difference in the community is one of the top reasons Malicki said he wanted to go into business for himself. Officials at Piggly Wiggly's corporate office knew he was looking for a franchise opportunity so when one came along in 2011, Malicki jumped at the chance.
"I was worn out working for someone else," he said. "But I also saw an opportunity to be a contributing member of the community. I think businesses owe it to the community to be a positive influence."
Malicki is a board member for several community organizations including Neighborhood Watch, Crime Stoppers and the Racine County Food Bank. Giving back is part of his store's mission statement.
"'Strive to make a difference' is part of our mission because it was important to stand for something before we really got going," he explained.
But Malicki doesn't just serve on the boards of these groups. He also steps in and steps up at almost the drop of a hat, like he did when he offered storage and assembly space for the annual Santa in a Shoebox.
Diana Higgenbottom, founder and chief organizer of Santa in a Shoebox, said Ralph offering space like he did is what helped push the number of boxes delivered to well above 600. Usually, Higgenbottom and her group of volunteers assemble and deliver between 150-200 boxes.
"He really wanted to help us meet our goal, and because of his help, we had over 600, and that's incredible," she said. "Before this past Christmas, he was a stranger to me, but I would definitely consider him a friend now. I can't think of a better person who should receive this recognition."
Commitment to building a better business
With 30 years in the grocery business, Malicki knows a thing or two about what makes a successful grocery store. With Gesler, without whom Malicki says he could not operate, much less succeed, they've created a comfortable, casual work environment where employees feel part of the family.
It should also be noted that many employees really are family. RAB Supermarkets, the parent company of Malicki's store, stands for Ralph, Alex and Ben, Malicki's two sons. Gesler's son and daughter work there, too, and several workers are related to friends. (Full disclosure: this reporter's daughter works there and she always says that going to work is fun.)
Gesler pointed out that as employers, they feel a responsibility to their workers and that both he and Malicki grew up working the family farm so it feels natural now to extend that family atmosphere.
"We feel the weight—and it's not a bad feeling—of being responsible for keeping our employees employed," he said. "A lot of customers are friends and family so we have accountability there, too."
Malicki nodded in agreement.
"I feel more accountable now than I ever did working for a corporation because the presentation of the store is important. If someone is unhappy with something here, I take it personally and work to correct it," he said. "I know it sounds cliche, but that's what makes it true: our customers are our friends and family and what they think, making this the best grocery store for them, really matters."