Generation Next: Price Mabry a man with a plan
On the last day of 2020, Price Mabry was enjoying a few days off before starting his new job on the first Monday of the new year as produce director of HAC, Inc., an 80-store grocery chain that consists of eight banners with stores located in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and Georgia.
At 33 years old, Mabry will be one of the younger, if not the youngest, produce director of a chain that size in the United States. He is extremely excited about the job and the opportunity to prove himself at the highest produce level, but he admits to higher aspirations.
“I have big dreams,” he said. “I have higher expectations for myself. My ultimate goal is to run a company. Be a CEO.”
He has proven to be a go-getter and fast learner who has quickly risen through the ranks. He is heading into this new job with great expectations, but also the knowledge that he has a lot to learn — and the best way to learn it is by listening to others. “I have two ears and one mouth for a reason,” he said, adding that getting along with colleagues and co-workers is one of his strong suits. “People tell me I can be in politics. We sell produce, but we are in a relationship business.”
Born in 1987, Mabry grew up in the small town of Purcell, OK, about 35 miles south of Oklahoma City. “I have deep roots in the grocery business,” he said. “My dad was a store manager in the only store in town (United Super Markets of Oklahoma), and I always wanted to do what my dad was doing.”
By the time Mabry was in high school, his father, Ricky Mabry, had moved on and is currently running a group of convenience stores in Oklahoma, but Mabry did secure a job at the United Supermarket as a bag boy at age 16. By 18, he was a produce clerk and soon became the produce manager. He said it was hard work that got him noticed and got him the position, but he also mentioned that he was the only employee in the department.
Initially, he wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps and by 19, he had moved to another United Supermarket outlet in Oklahoma and was eyeing a path toward store management. He did, in fact, hold an assistant store manager position at the chain when he was 22, but wanted to change his view of the world a little bit. At the time, he had some friends that were moving to Baton Rouge to attend Louisiana State University. Mabry decided to join them in Baton Rouge, while he continued his supermarket career.
It was 2009, and he had the opportunity to become a produce clerk for Albertson’s. While it was seemingly a drop in position — Mabry went from assistant manager for a small chain to produce clerk for a large chain — he received the same pay. “I took a liking to it really quick,” he said, speaking of both produce and Baton Rouge. “I met my wife there and we got married in 2010.”
He also became a produce manager in short order with his first store being at the Albertsons in Mandeville, LA, which is on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain, opposite New Orleans. By 2013, at the age of 26, Mabry was a produce supervisor with 12-area stores in southwest Louisiana under his purview.
He stayed in that position for three years before joining the Gulf Coast Division of Associated Wholesale Grocers in Pearl River, LA, in October 2015 as a merchandiser. A year later, Mabry was promoted to produce sales and procurement. “That’s when the training wheels came off,” he said, noting that his responsibility grew exponentially over the four years he held that position.
Among his responsibilities was profit and loss, quality control and setting store schematics for AWG’s many retail clients. As an independent buying operation for those clients, Mabry said learning the wholesale side of the business was a huge benefit that will serve him well in his produce and floral director role at HAC. He said many produce directors that move up the ranks through a chain don’t ever get that experience.
He is also very excited about being able to go home — back to Oklahoma where his career began, and he is also enthusiastic about working with the smaller chains that define HAC. He mentioned that the firm has the goal of acquiring small chains “and breathing new life into them.”
In fact, one of those chains is literally where it all began for Mabry at United Supermarkets, with its 16 Oklahoma stores. It is one of HAC’s banners. Mabry said that United is reflective of the HAC stable of stores. United was founded more than a 100 years ago and is employee-owned, but now, as part of a larger operation, it can still thrive locally and benefit from the advantages of being tied to a larger company with more buying power and expertise.
While Mabry admits to having a lot to learn, he is also an accomplished retail produce executive and is anxious to pass his knowledge on to produce managers and others that will be under his supervision. “This is an opportunity for me to give back,” he said, noting that he had mentors that took him under their wings and saw his potential. “I want to teach, coach and train produce managers.”
Over the last few years of his career, he has become more involved in industry organizations and expects to continue that networking role in his new position. He is a 2017 graduate of the Southeast Produce Council’s Step-Up program and has served on that committee ever since. He also served on the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit Committee for 2020 and will do the same for 2021.
Considering Mabry’s upward mobility over the past 15 years, it is hard to imagine that he found time for anything else, but he has a robust family life. Price and Leslie Mabry have three children: Carson, 9; Charlotte, 7; and Kinsley, 3. “I spend almost all of my spare time with my family,” he said, which includes partaking in several sporting activities sports. “I’m also an everyday runner and I keep up with the Oklahoma Sooners, my home state team,” noting that his years in Louisiana did make him an LSU fun, but they are still only No. 2 in his heart.