First Person Singular: Rodman's Discount Food and Drug manager Charlie Miller

Sunday, May 9, 2010

I was working in my father's liquor store in Southeast on Pennsylvania Avenue when I was 6. I would wait on the kids, sell 'em candy, eat my father out of house and home. He'd take me on deliveries. What I loved the most was going to breakfast with him. Everyone knew who he was. Everyone liked him. That was pretty cool to see your dad like that.

We did things crazy, though. We ate dinner at 10. He used to go the movies with me and fall asleep. But he was the best dad any kid could have. I did the same things with my kids. I worked hard, crazy hours, but I never missed what mattered.

When I started working for Rodman's in 2005, instead of for myself, I was a little nervous. When you work with your own family, you can say whatever you want and make up for it later. And you call the shots. But the stress is 24-7; family time is work time; work time is family time.

When I'm not here, I'm still here in my head. If I go to a chain grocery store, I'm checking out the stock, checking out the prices and loving it when their customer service is horrible. I'm Type A. I like to be in the middle of things. I can't be on the sidelines. If I'm not in the middle of things, I'm worried about what's going on. I'm hands-on. You want to know where the South African food is? Looking for a certain wine? Let me show you. I stock shelves; I'll help unload. I'm no cube guy.

I walk the aisles, with this phone to my ear, talking to vendors, negotiating prices and making sure that shipment gets here when it's supposed to. Over Christmas, I lost 14 pounds, just walking the store. "Where's this?" "Where's that?" I hear it all day long, and it doesn't get old. You have a question, I'm going to listen. I bet I know 60 percent of our customers by name, and the new ones, I'm working on. I want to know how you're feeling after that surgery, how the grandkids are. That's why Rodman's is different. I've got customers who are 102, and they're not just coming in because they like the cheese -- they like to be treated like a human.

My dad would be proud of what I'm doing at Rodman's. His lesson sticks: The store comes first. That's just the way I was raised. I can't ever turn it off, but I am trying to learn how to turn it down.

Interview by Amanda Long

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