Avon Prime Meats transitioned from a franchise to an independently owned small business in 2014. General Manager Rocio Olivares has been with the business since 2011. She recently spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about the role small businesses play in their communities.

NAN PRICE: Give us a little background. You’ve been involved with this business for 10 years and helped during the business transition.

ROCIO OLIVARES: My background is business marketing. When I started working here I was in charge of marketing and I did the rebranding when we became Avon Prime Meats.

There are entrepreneurial parts to my journey with this business. I became the General Manager in 2018. In 2019, I installed new technology because I knew that we may be tiny but we have to be mighty when it comes to technology. Having good technology in our business has helped us get through the pandemic successfully. And it helps us to be efficient. I always say that being small doesn’t mean being inefficient or disorganized. We want to be as productive as we can to stay competitive.

NAN: Tell us a little about the transition to an independent business.

ROCIO: The transition, which happened on 2014, was a little challenging at first. Our customers, who we call guests, had questions about whether the ownership, the team, and the quality were going to change. We assured them that we had the same owners, the same team, and the same products. We were just embarking on our own adventure. Nothing was changing but our business name. Actually, changing a business name takes a long time. That was the hardest part. Even with the best efforts in marketing, people had a hard time adjusting to the new name, but they love it now. We’ve become a staple in town.

We are very committed to our local community. We like being a small local business that supports other small businesses in our town and our community.

For example, our store sells products from Cardia Cookie Company, which are baked by a local mom in Avon. We sell milk from Smyth’s Trinity Farm a farm in Enfield owned by the family of one of our managers. We also sell yogurt from Hastings Farm in Suffield, lamb from Sepe Farm in Sandy Hook, ice cream from Tulmeadow Farm Store in Simsbury, eggs from Lawler Farm in Canton, and bread from Hartford Baking Company. All of these businesses are working really hard toward a dream so, if we can provide a spotlight for them and let them shine even in a small way in their own community, we will do it.

NAN: That kind of intention not only helps bring others up, it also makes your business a destination to support other businesses and a place where people can shop local and support their community.

ROCIO: Absolutely.

NAN: In addition to supporting other small businesses, what is the key to being a successful small business?

ROCIO: In my experience, the people are the key. You have to genuinely care for your employees. A lot of our team members, like our butchers, have been with us for many years. We’ve developed a special bond. It’s like family. Some of our employees started with us when they were in high school and have stayed with us as they transitioned to college, then we have to say goodbye when they transition to professional careers in the real world.

We have a very diverse team from all different backgrounds and walks of life. That enriches the experience we provide as we all learn from each other and value our differences.

NAN: Regarding the pandemic, you mentioned that technology helped. Any other takeaways or lessons learned?

ROCIO: Having our technology in place really saved us during the pandemic because we were able to put the entire store online. We also offered curbside and deliveries—which we still provide.

We were very busy during the pandemic. We were fortunate to have a good amount of supply. So, we fared well, but that also meant a lot of work for the people who were here. We all felt the weight of it. We’ve worked really long days with no breaks. And, right now we’re also feeling the aftermath of what has happened. We don’t have enough employees. During the pandemic, we were blessed in a way, because a lot of our college kids who were doing remote classes stayed and worked with us. So, during 2020, we didn’t feel that shortage of people that much. But now that some of our employees have returned school on site, we’re feeling the shortage and it’s hard to retain employees. That’s one challenge we have right now.

I think the biggest takeaway from our experience during the pandemic has been the people—not only our team, but also our guests. We recognized some of our guests were home bound and we were able to deliver to them and care for them throughout the pandemic. So, the pandemic really opened our eyes to how much need there is in our community for this kind of extension of care.

However, we’ve always developed personal relationships. We know many of our guests by name and we get to know their families’ likes and dislikes, so we can make personal recommendations. That makes the customers—and us—feel really good.

During the height of the pandemic, some of our guests reached out to us directly not just to place their orders, but also to check in on how we were doing. That was something that really touched our hearts and something we’ll continue to provide in our community.

Learn more about Avon Prime Meats
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Photo: The Avon Prime Meats team (General Manager Rocio Olivares third from left)