You may know them by the infamous blue shirt they wear, by the friendly “hello” or “can I help you find something” they offer as you peruse the aisles or by their vast product knowledge and unending commitment to customer service. These characteristics make up the Heinen’s associate.
At Heinen’s, we believe “you have to find the best to sell the best,” and this includes finding the best people! Our vision begins with those who wear the Heinen’s blue shirt; they are what makes shopping with Heinen’s memorable and enjoyable.
So, let’s get to know the people behind the blue shirt! Today, we’re talking to Keela, Heinen’s Pepper Pike Customer Service Manager who, with two decades of service on the front end, finds that being the best Heinen’s associate means putting people first, always.
How long have you worked at Heinen’s?
I started working at Heinen’s when I was 16 years old as a part time cashier, and 20 years later I’m still here. I did not plan on being at Heinen’s as long as I have. I left after I graduated high school to attend college, and no matter where life took me in my career and personal life, I always recommitted myself to Heinen’s. A lot of that has to do with the strong relationships I’ve formed with my fellow associates, along with the incredible culture at this company.
How many different Heinen’s locations have you worked at?
I’ve worked at a few Heinen’s locations on the east side of Cleveland. The first 14 years of my Heinen’s career were spent at Heinen’s Shaker Heights, then I moved over Heinen’s Aurora for three years. This was actually where I stepped into the role of Customer Service Manager. It was the perfect store for a first time manager because the customers were patient and kind (although that is true for customers at all of our stores) and its tends to have a bit of a slower pace.
After my time at Heinen’s Aurora, I spent a year at Heinen’s Downtown Cleveland and finally landed at Heinen’s Pepper Pike in April of 2020. I’ve loved the experience of spending time at different locations because of the many people I have had the chance the meet, and the relationships that formed as a result.
How many different departments have you worked in at Heinen’s?
In my 20 years at Heinen’s, customer service has been my home, but I’m always willing to jump in and help associates in other departments. I strive to be personable and positive, and I really love interacting with people and solving problems. This customer service role allows me to do and be all of that everyday!
However, being in a management role now, I am taking the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of different departments. I believe it makes me be a better leader and can help me advance my career at Heinen’s in the future.
What do you like most about working in customer service?
The relationships I get to build with customers is the best part of my job. One of Heinen’s core values is customer service – we believe that our customers come first and we want them to know that we care about providing the best experience, because when you treat someone well, they stick around. I get to live that value everyday.
The most rewarding thing for me is to get to know the families who shop at our stores and watch them grow and evolve over the years together. Not every department gets the opportunity to be so close to the customer. It’s something I really value about my role.
Walk us through a “day in life of a Heinen’s Customer Service Manager.”
The average day of a Customer Service Manager is hard to describe because it is literally never the same, but that’s what I like about the job. The natural flow of the business day determines my priorities. Some days I’m solving customer issues, other days I’m solving associate issues and, on the weird days, I’m even solving building issues, like power outages.
What I can say, is that to be a successful Customer Service Manager, you have to be a positive problem solver. My goal when I first come in everyday is to greet each member of my team by name. No associate wants a “sour Sally” manager who treats them like a number, so I make sure my team knows that I see them and that I care about them both personally and professionally. I also make sure I say goodbye to each member of my team before I leave the store at the end of the day. It’s personable actions like this that mean the most to both our associates and customers and helps build those lasting relationships that Heinen’s values so much.
Being a Customer Service Manager also requires knowing your store, so I’ve made it a priority to get to know every associate at Heinen’s Pepper Pike. I want the community of people I work with and lead to know that they can trust me, learn from me, ask me for help when needed and, most of all, know that I value them as an associate and a person. Even better, these associates make a lasting impact on me too, which has helped me learn and grow!
What Attracted you to the Customer Service Role?
I think my personality was designed for a customer service role. I am a people person who likes to talk to others, serve others, solve problems for others and make others feel comfortable.
If there is one item from anywhere in our store that you can’t live without and recommend to everyone, what is it?
I am obsessed with Mitchell’s Wildberry Crumble ice cream and Lemon Raspberry yogurt. I actually learned about these two flavors a few years ago when Mitchell’s was a finalist in our Loving Local competition. We had samples for customers to try and after tasting it for myself, I was immediately hooked for life.
Whenever it is on sale, I always grab a few pints for me and my family.
What’s your favorite thing to cook?
I wouldn’t say that I like to cook, but I will cook! I have a family of very picky eaters, soI don’t typically stray outside of my comfort zone in the kitchen. I always find myself serving chicken or beef because it is a safe bet, but I am going to start adding Heinen’s What’s For Dinner recipes into my weekly meal plan. The recipes are unique, tasty, quick and just the right size for what I need.
If I am cooking from scratch, I love to make lasagna – or really any kind of pasta; I love pasta!
What’s your favorite way to spend a day off?
My husband is a Cleveland police officer, so if we are able to align our days off, we will spend time together, as well as with our kids, but I also enjoy crafting. I just made decorative wine glasses for a girlfriend that she plans to gift for the holidays! I love being creative.
What is your fondest memory from working at Heinen’s?
So many memories run through my head from these last 20 years, but one of the best memories I have from my time at Heinen’s was when I had the opportunity to travel to Chicago to help train new associates when we opened our stores in that region! I was honored that the company trusted me to assist and I actually traveled to those stores two or three times to help!
I can’t pick just one memory, so here’s another one. When I worked at Heinen’s Downtown Cleveland, we hosted a Valentine’s Day dinner on the second floor under the stained glass rotunda. I helped decorate the space and served as a waitress and thought it was so cool that couples would come to their local grocery store to enjoy a romantic dinner! I don’t know of any other grocery store that offers that kind of experience, and I am glad I could be a part of it.
Why do you love working at Heinen’s?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it is all about the relationships, and there is something to be said for the way owners Jeff and Tom Heinen form relationships with their associates. They are the reason Heinen’s culture is as great as it is.
Heinen’s has grown a lot over the years and I continue to be blown away that our leadership prioritizes knowing everyone on an individual level. At one point, I ran into Jeff Heinen without my nametag and he still greeted me with a friendly, “Hi, Keela!” and even asked how my husband was feeling after hearing he had been sick. I was flabbergasted that he knew who I was, let alone knew something about my personal life, but that’s just who he and Tom are. Heinen’s cares about their people and their customers and that all starts with the role models who lead our company. I feel lucky to work for a family business that values their people and I hope to continue to emulate that in my career at Heinen’s.