family named top entrepreneurs
Innovating with the times
by Chris Hammond
A note of success: Dean Bill Blake of the Business faculty joins
several generations of Belbins around the piano. (L-R) Elizabeth
and Chris, Dr. Blake, Fraser and Gertrude, Robert and Elizabeth,
and Shirley and Edgar. (Edgar and Fraser are sons of the store
founder, Robert Belbin Sr.)
Belbins Grocery in St. Johns is an industry anomaly.
A St. Johns institution for more than 50 years, the stores
modest façade is old-fashioned quaint, even
and inside, the shelves are lined with just a few of each of
the countrys major brands, and many of the provinces
longtime favourites. Its clean, neat, but strikingly small,
and you certainly wont find a barcode scanner at the checkout.
And yet, this tiny market is a grocery powerhouse, boasting one
of the highest sales ratios in the country in an industry known
for bulk buying and warehouse shopping.
So just how does this little guy survive and thrive?
Honoured as Entrepreneurs of the Year at the Faculty of Business
Administrations annual Partners Dinner, held in the Fairmont
Newfoundland Hotel on May 17, the popular grocery stores
current owners Robert, Peter, and Chris Belbin were recognized
for remaining true to the founder, their grandfathers,
original vision of providing customers with a hassle-free shopping
Begun in 1943 in the family living room by Robert George Belbin
and his sons, Edgar, Fraser, and Douglas, Belbins Grocery
profitted from the start by consistently offering a good selection
of quality products, as well as helpful services such as charge
accounts and free delivery. In the notoriously competitive and
low-margin food trade, the brothers developed a special expertise
in customer service, carving out a secure niche of loyal customers.
Included in this group is Janet Gardiner, who, in introducing
the award recipients at the event, spoke of her own experience
with the store and the family behind it. I opened my Belbins
account right after my wedding, 40 years ago, she said.
In fact, it was Edgars wife Shirley who taught me
how to cook.
Although they did not start the business themselves, the Belbins
status as entrepreneurs stems from their innovations: the first
online grocery in Newfoundland, Belbins enables customers
to phone, fax, or e-mail a grocery order and have it delivered
right to their door. Most recently, they branched successfully
into catering and launched a wildly successful Dinners
Ready line of prepackaged fresh and frozen entrees, which
Ms. Gardiner personally endorsed.
My dad, who celebrated his 92nd birthday today, cant
see past the lasagna, she said, but my favourite
is the salmon florentine.
Speaking for the Faculty of Business, Dean Bill Blake summarized
the merit of the winners.
At a time when most companies view rapid expansion as their
only mode of progress, Belbins provides a superb example
of the success thats possible from a more tailored approach
to the market, he said. Thats what makes them
such an exciting choice for this award: theyre an older,
established name in the business community, but they havent
stagnated they keep their commitment to customer service
fresh through a strategic use of innovation, without changing
who they are as a brand.
Robert Belbin gave special credit to his wife and the wives of
his brothers for the success of the entreprise, and noted that
the familys success comes from taking pride in every last
detail of the work. He added, A prestigious award like
this drives you on to keep improving.
Belbins Grocery is located at 85 Quidi Vidi Road in St.