Owners say the store is faring well in its battle against food giants -- its sales rise an average of 10 percent per year.
By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
AUSTINTOWN -- Rulli Bros.' owners say their Kirk Road grocery store is best known for its old-fashioned service, but state-of-the-art conveniences have a place, too.
Frank Sr. and Louise Rulli say the computerized self-checkout line they're launching at the Austintown location Monday is just one more way they hope to make shopping fun and convenient for their customers.
Self-checkouts have become commonplace in big-city super markets around the country, but the Rullis, owners of the independent, family operated Austintown store, said they wanted to be the first to introduce the service in Mahoning County.
Cathy Lind, executive director of the Youngstown Area Grocers Association, said Rulli's is the first in the county to add a complete self-serve checkout.
Tops Friendly Markets in Niles and Warren both have self-checkouts, and Sam's Club in Boardman had a scanning system that required customers to go through a cashier checkout but is no longer using it.
Self-checkout is designed for the "on the go" customer who doesn't want to wait in line to buy a few items. "Sometimes we get a rush at odd hours, and the checkout lines get long," Mrs. Rulli said. "This will offer the customer with a few items an alternative."
The service will not cause the loss of jobs, the owners said. An extra checkout line is being added to accommodate the self-checkout, and the number of cashier positions will remain unchanged.
The self-checkout will be available any time the store is open.
The right time: The Rullis' son Michael, who works full time in the family business along with his brother Mark, said self-checkouts have changed a lot since they were first introduced in the early 1990s. Unlike earlier systems that required a clerk to total the order and collect payment, he said, the Rulli's checkout will allow the customer to complete a transaction from start to finish.
"You're in the driver's seat," he said. "You're the cashier and the customer all in one."
Mrs. Rulli said family members studied the checkout option for seven or eight years, but they wanted to wait until the systems were perfected before bringing one to their Austintown store.
How it works: The self-checkout uses a touch-screen computer monitor and voice prompts to guide the customer through the process. The Rullis also plan to have an employee stationed at the self-checkout for at least the first month to assist anyone who wants to try it.
Customers scan bar coded items over a highly sensitive scanner, weigh their produce and type in the item number using the touch screen. Bags are positioned conveniently on the checkout, and the consumer can pay with cash, credit card, check or debit card.
For security, the machine is equipped with a video monitor that tapes each transaction and gives the shopper a verbal cue if an error is made. Store managers also will wear pagers that will summon them if a customer at the self-checkout needs assistance.
"It's friendly," Michael Rulli said, grinning. "It talks to you. I think people will have fun with it."
The self-checkout will be used for smaller, express orders only, at least at first. Besides saving time, the Rullis said, some customers will like the system because it offers more privacy than the standard checkout and allows the consumer to keep a closer watch on the prices of the items they buy.
Doing well: Frank Rulli said the Austintown Rulli Bros. store has a strong customer base and is doing well in competition against larger, chain-store competitors. He would not divulge the store's sales figures but said its sales totals have grown an average of 10 percent per year since the store opened in 1988.
Rulli's father, Nicola, and his uncles Joe and Frank founded Rulli Bros. on Federal Street in Youngstown in 1917, and at one time they operated three grocery stores downtown.
When urban renewal in the downtown area forced a move to the suburbs in the late 1960s, the Rulli family built a store in Boardman, Rulli Bros. Market on South Avenue, and in 1988, Frank and Louise built the Austintown store.
Frank Sr. remains a part owner in the Boardman store with his brother Tony, but the Rulli Bros. he and his wife own in Austintown operates independently from the Boardman store.
Advantages: Mrs. Rulli said the couple's Kirk Road store offers several advantages over its larger competitors.
For example, she said produce is delivered directly to the store from California, not stored in warehouses for several days as some grocery chains do.
The store carries its own Rulli Bros. line of pastas and Italian food products and employs a chef to prepare its hot food items. Rulli's buys its meat fresh from local farmers instead of using vacuum-sealed meat purchased from a distributor, and the store specializes in Italian sausage made with Frank Sr.'s recipe.
Two other sons, Frank Jr. and Nick, have entered other professions but still keep a hand in the family business. And Mrs. Rulli said a fourth generation is waiting in the wings -- Michael's son Ethan Michael, the Rullis' first grandchild, is 11 months old.
"We're hoping he'll want to continue the tradition," Mrs. Rulli said with a wide grin.