Mobile’s newest Piggly Wiggly includes outlets for prime local businesses

Kamal Constantine has specialized his Piggly Wiggly stores by working with other local businesses

Kamal Constantine strives to give his customers all they could wish for at his newest Piggly Wiggly location in Mobile. Photo by Mike Kittrell.

You need fancy chocolates? An elegant flower arrangement? Authentic international foods? But you have time for only one stop on your shopping trip?

Kamal Constantine has created the solution in his newest Piggly Wiggly location at University and Airport in Mobile. It houses an upscale version of the classic Pig, but with other local businesses inside. There’s a branch of Three Georges Fine Southern Chocolates, of Lush Floral and of Naman’s International Foods.

And it’s all part of the particular experience Constantine wants to offer his newest customers.

Born in Lebanon, Constantine came to America when he was about 17 years old and went to school in Charleston, South Carolina. He moved to Mobile in 1979 and worked at Greer’s for 10-15 years. He and the original owner of the company, Danny Manning, remain close friends.

“He started to retire,” Constantine says. “I had a small ownership in the company, and I ended up buying him out about three years ago. I started in the business working produce, cleaning floors and things like that before moving up to manager and store supervisor and then to owner.”

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After taking ownership of the grocery group, Constantine and his team added stores, and he now has 15 locations. The Alabama Grocers Association has named him the 2024 Retailer of the Year.

A selection of locally produced sushi is one of the many specialties in the store. Photo by Mike Kittrell.

His cooperation with local merchants started at the location in Fairhope.

“There was a lady who was going out of business and the people that she was renting from downtown went up on the rent,” Constantine says. “We just told her not to go out of business and to come open something in our location. That was Andree’s, and Andree’s is now one of the biggest icons in Fairhope.”

Constantine, or K.C. as many of his employees and vendors call him, sets up the vendors within the store’s point-of-sale system. Customers are able to check out with any of the merchandise at any of the registers. He then shares in the revenues with the vendors. The merchants don’t have any pressure to stay. Constantine wants everyone in his store to be successful and encourages the vendors to make the decision to leave if their location in his store isn’t doing well.

“When I came here, we wanted to do the same thing (as we did in Fairhope) but at a larger scale,” Constantine says. “So, we added Naman’s International, The Flying Pig, the Pig Fish seafood area, sushi, Three Georges, Boar’s Head and a pharmacy. This is our first pharmacy we’ve had; it’s a local lady, and the business is doing very well. I like to support the community and foster local businesses. I’m not interested in opening a Walgreen’s inside one of my stores.”

Constantine says going forward the offerings for his stores will be location and demand specific.

“There are some areas that don’t care about Three Georges because it’s a very expensive chocolate and we don’t want (Three Georges) to fail in those certain stores,” Constantine says. “My goal is to move this idea into all the stores where it applies. Not many people like international food, so each store will be different.”

According to its corporate website, Piggly Wiggly is America’s first self-service grocery store and was founded in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1916 by Clarence Saunders. In grocery stores of that time, shoppers presented their orders to clerks who then gathered the goods from the store shelves. Saunders noticed that this method resulted in wasted time and expense, so he came up with a solution for shoppers to serve themselves.

The facade of Mobile’s newest Piggly Wiggly location at Airport and University in Mobile. Photo by Mike Kittrell.

Today, there are more than 500 Piggly Wiggly stores serving communities in 18 states.

Piggly Wiggly’s corporate headquarters are in Keene, New Hampshire. It issues Piggly Wiggly franchises to qualified independent grocery retailers. The company also provides the retailers with services such as support, marketing programs and a line of promotional items.

When looking for a location for his newest Piggly Wiggly, Constantine took an old building he says was an eyesore for a long time and worked to make it more welcoming. He started with bright lighting and painting the ceiling white to make the space feel more open.

“One thing I keep hearing from customers in our business is that the aisles are too small,” Constantine says. “So, I knew with this store I wanted to make 8-foot aisles, and people seem to love the comfort of shopping here.”

Despite his larger-than-normal aisle size, the store has seen no impact to the number of aisles within or amount of items it’s able to carry. According to Constantine, the average store is 30,000-40,000 square feet, and this store is 54,000 square feet. Another thing this location has is lots of cash registers, addressing another common customer complaint — long checkout times.

It’s imperative to Constantine that his stores stand apart from others in the area as extremely clean. However, he’s not paying for extra cleanings but instilling a sense of communal responsibility among his staff.

“In our training, we work on keeping our stores as clean as our homes,” Constantine says. “I tell them that if they have time to lean, they have time to clean. It’s not only the job of the cleaning people to keep this place in order. If someone is walking by and sees something that needs to be done, they do it. If I see someone walk by trash on the floor and act like it’s not their job, they won’t last here.”

The owner says his employees tend to care deeply about where they work and take pride in its success, which leads to customer satisfaction. 

“In any business, if you don’t keep going forward, you go back,” Constantine says. “You don’t want to sit still in any business or anything that you do. I always want to keep going forward, even if that means trimming poor performing locations or moving them somewhere they can thrive.”

Constantine has come a long way from his days working in the produce department of a local Greer’s. He remains committed to providing the best experience for shoppers at all his locations. The grocer says he weighs heavily the responsibility he has not only to his community, but to the people he employs as well.

“When Danny and I started this business together, we had close to 40 employees,” Constantine says. “Now we have 700 employees. It makes you think about every decision you make because it affects so many people’s lives. At the same time, I get the blessing of knowing I’m helping 700 people pay their bills. It’s really a gift to me to be able to do that.”

Crystal Castle and Mike Kittrell are Mobile-based freelance contributors to Business Alabama.

This article appears in the July 2024 issue of Business Alabama.

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