Rotary Club of South Bend


Posted by Cynthia Kilgore on Jun 21, 2018
Rotarian Vivian Sallie introduced Rob Bartels, President and CEO of Martin’s Super Markets. He is a graduate of Riley High School and the Kelly School of Business at Indiana University. He serves on the Board of Directors for Lake City Bank, the Beacon Medical Group and the South Bend Education Foundation. He is a member of Sunnyside Presbyterian church and enthusiastically supports the Nature Conservancy. Duck Unlimited and the Michigan Forestry Stewardship Program.
Along time ago a couple of “kids” named Jane and Martin started Martin’s Super Markets who took a risk with everything they had. They could not get a loan so they scraped money together from family and friends along with a $100 loan. They wrote a letter and put everything on the line if it did not work. Family joked with them about what they would do with the 2 daughters if this idea did not work.  When his grandparents passed, they found a letter that Jane wrote to Martin asking what would happen to the girls if it didn’t work. This was a real fear for Jane.
Martin’s Super Markets is in business to provide good customer service. However, underneath there should always be a bit of desperation – to ensure that one continues to do the right thing. Jane and Martin shared information, which often does not happen with “Mom and Pop” shops.  They shared information with those that worked alongside of them. Rob sees this as part of the reason they are able to continue to succeed because of this culture created by Jane and Martin. Stewardship of resources is necessary as they see about 1.5% profit before taxes.
The fun part of the business is the noble purpose. In the fall they have an employee appreciation dinner, honoring employees with at least 10 years of service. Last year, they celebrated over 22,000 years of service with the most senior employees. The quality of the work is the hard and important part of the business. There are several families that have multiple generations working in the business besides the Bartels.
Entrepreneurialism is often celebrated, but do we celebrate capitalism. He notes that capitalism is something not understood by the youth of today. When you have a natural system in play, you have a lot of adaptations having, things evolving, etc. As we talk to youth, it is important to teach them about business. He noted that he could not start Martin’s Super Markets today the way his grandparents started the business. The first 30 years were the tough years.
Besides the supermarkets, what are the other lines of business. One is the food truck, which takes the deli food on the road. They have Paw Mart stores for pets. Convenience store is complimentary to the large store. This is all part of trying to ensure they are meeting customer expectations.