Big Lots Buys Into Martin City Role
New team is changing the perception of Big Box retail.
Diversity is a hallmark of the business community in Martin City. From restaurants and retail to healthcare and construction, we’re a mix of people and enterprises pulling together to keep our neighborhood thriving. While we’re known for our smaller businesses, we leave a little room for bigger ones that fit into our way of life and want to make a difference. Big Lots believes it’s a good example.
If you don’t think Big Lots is a big deal for Martin City, consider the company’s financial impact. Every purchase inside the store (not online) and every employee on the payroll translates to additional tax revenue for the Martin City Community Improvement District’s budget. It’s a reliable and substantial flow of money that’s critical for everything from streets and sidewalks to security and community events.
“Every dollar matters,” says Martin City Community Improvement District Manager Vickie Wolgast. “We’re on an ambitious revitalization path and we need all the help we can get from members of our business community. We welcome their investments in our future.”
Big Lots has just renewed its investment, signing a new lease in Martin City and setting out to strengthen its appeal. Gone are the days of the overstock reseller image. Big Lots now offers its own exclusive brands and has branched out into a wide array of products including grocery food and drinks, clothing, pet supplies, personal care, housewares, and competitively priced larger items like furniture — lots of furniture.
The store has been a fixture in the State Line Point shopping center for several years, but now seems to be getting more traction as activity returns to the center on the back side of the pandemic. Big Lots has embraced a modern idea of a department store, complete with large seasonal displays, aisle after aisle of household essentials, a revamped rewards program and a new manager focused squarely on customer service.
“Our customers are savvy shoppers scouting out good deals and we want to take care of them like never before,” says Big Lots Store Manager, Robert Razee. “We’re working to create the best flow throughout the store and the fastest checkout. Customer service is the priority. We want to be as friendly as our customers are in Martin City, and we want to help them in any way we can.”
Connecting a Local Community
Robert Razee is from California, but you can tell he’s a natural fit in the heartland. He didn’t come here in 2019 just for a job opportunity. He wanted to be closer to family, specifically his sister who lives in Iowa.
“I managed the Big Lots in Independence, Missouri for a couple of years, and then heard good things about Martin City, so I transferred over here in December of 2020 to check it out. I’m glad I did. This neighborhood is like a small town, and the people are really nice.”
Razee explored a lot as he settled, living in the River Market area for a while and then Westport. He leads a diverse Big Lots team of about 15 people from all over the area, and it’s growing. They come from as far away as Lee’s Summit and Olathe to be a part of what Razee is building. Despite a struggling economy, there are many retail jobs out there, but Big Lots employees are known to take multiple buses just to clock in here in Martin City.
“Other employees will drive 45 minutes to work here. You know they wouldn’t do that if they didn’t like being here,” says lead Service Manager, Julia Hansett. “Big Lots is a good company. It takes care of its people and it’s realistic about their needs.”
Hansett probably has a closer Martin City connection than anyone else on staff. Her mother lives in Martin City, near The Martin Event Space at 135th Street and Holmes. And Hansett lives just a few blocks further down the road. She knows how shoppers are around here, what they want and what they expect. She seems perfectly matched for customer service at a business in Martin City that also attracts customers from small towns south of the metro.
“We’re not just another big discount store. We’re people who understand the community we serve and that makes us different,” says Hansett, adjusting her mask over a smile that wants to break out of it. “We keep it comfortable and low-key. Customers around here don’t want to compete with large crowds at a jam-packed retail warehouse. They want to talk to employees about their needs, browse a wide variety of products, and check out quickly.”
“Many older people need a little extra help,” adds Razee. “Maybe they need assistance at the curb or reaching products on shelves. We’re happy to work with them. We do what it takes.”
You can tell it’s not just talk. Razee’s eyes constantly scan the store while he chats with us, and he routinely breaks away to guide customers or jump behind a cash register. The way he engages people is sincere, and you can see for yourself how Hansett brings the warmth of her personality to every customer she meets.
“I’m excited by our potential as a team,” says Razee. “I think our service is just as valuable to our customers as our merchandise, and I want us to keep building an experience that just keeps getting better.”
Doing More for Martin City
In addition to the in-store sales and payroll tax revenue Big Lots generates for Martin City, the company has recently launched a program aimed at improving neighborhoods surrounding its stores in areas like health, education, housing, and hunger. Hansett is also quick to point out that the Martin City store is making a difference for local businesses every day.’
“We’re bringing people into Martin City, hundreds of them. We’re pointing them toward restaurants like Jess and Jim’s Steakhouse, Jack Stack Barbecue, and Martin City Brewing Company. Think of all these people coming from out of town and looking at Martin City as a destination. They may be coming here to shop at Big Lots, but they’re not going to just leave afterward. They’re going to stick around and check out the neighborhood.”
Big Lots employees are also checking out the neighborhood. Razee is still new, but he’s already bragging on the new restaurant El Maguey nearby and he’s a fan of the special offers and deals streaming on Martin City Brewing Company’s Facebook page. “I’m finding my way around and there’s a lot to discover.”
Of course, Hansett already knows her way around. “Life is good in Martin City. People take it easy. On your day off, it’s a great place to walk around and just do whatever. I know a couple of guys who go to the brewery just to sit outside and talk. Oh, and Martin City Coffee is so yummy. Ramseys’ Burgers too. I was there the day it opened. I love really good local food.”
And we love really good local retail. Thanks Big Lots for working to be more than a big box brand in our community. It’s good to know the spirit of Martin City is alive and well inside your walls. We appreciate the money you generate for community improvements, and we look forward to the end of masking so that we can finally see all those smiles again when we walk through the door!