By Connie Mandeville | Photo by Jessica McCafferty
Issue: October 2022
For Mark and Gary Yando and Michelle Yando Langlois, the grocery business is in their blood. Their grandfather opened the first Yando’s Big M in Malone almost 80 years ago and the siblings began working in the store as soon as they were legally of age. When a fire destroyed the Malone store in 1980, they had to decide whether to stay in the family business. They were up to the challenge. They took out loans and rebuilt the store. Ten years later, the trio decided to open another location in the south end of Plattsburgh. Now, after twenty years in Skyway Plaza, they continue to work hard every day to provide the best service they can for their customers.
Opening the Plattsburgh Store
When the opportunity to open a store in Plattsburgh presented itself, the Yandos were ready to expand. Multiple family members were part of the business at the time, so they took the chance. There was no grocery store at that end of town, and there were multiple housing projects being built in the surrounding area. With more housing added in recent years, combined with the number of manufacturing facilities on the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base and the International Airport right in their backyard, they have found a strong customer base to support the store.
Competing with Big Chains
The Yandos take pride in being an independent grocery store. “It’s us and a good accountant,” Mark offered. But not being part of a big corporation comes with its challenges. If the market needs a new meat case, they have to take on the $50,000 cost. The same thing is true if a compressor breaks down. The three are the ones who make all of the decisions and step in when employees are unable to work. That can mean baking, unloading the freezer, stocking shelves, and more. At the end of the day, they have to make sure that product is on the shelves.
To compete with the big chain stores, including the Dollar Stores, they believe it is their meat department that attracts customers. “You can buy groceries anywhere, but you can’t buy meat like ours,” Mark said. What makes Yando’s meat department so good is that everything is cut the old-fashioned way and round in-house. They do special orders for local restaurants and will make deals with organizations on large orders like turkeys. The store also has competitive prices and frequently price checks other stores. “The grocery business has a small margin for profit, but that doesn’t necessarily mean more expensive,” Michelle added. “We try very hard to put out an excellent product, and I believe we do. We are the little guy compared to other grocery stores, but we have built a strong clientele.”
Yando’s feels like a neighborhood grocery store where everyone knows your name. You are always greeted with a smile, which creates a welcoming environment. This face-to-face interaction often makes a difference with customers, especially with senior customers, who are a major demographic Yando’s serves. “Many live alone and are away from their families. They appreciate a friendly face when they are shopping. It doesn’t cost anything to smile,” Michelle said.
Part of being a neighborhood grocery store is giving back to the community. The siblings take pride in supporting programs for veterans and organizing food drives for JCEO every year. They also support any organization that helps kids. When groups ask for help, they try to give them an especially good price. “Big stores won’t do that,” Gary said.
The Importance of Their Employees
“We are blessed that we have really great employees who care,” Michelle offered. The store has about 40 employees. Many are retired and work part-time, including those in their meat department. The average age of Yando’s meat department employees is 65 years old. One employee is 81.
The trio takes pride in the family atmosphere they have created at the store. They train everyone and will teach the skills needed. Once the training is complete, they take a hands-off approach and do not micromanage. “We won’t bother you if you do your job,” Mark said. This has contributed to the loyalty of their employees through the years. “We can’t say enough about our employees. They are our biggest asset. They are like family,” Gary explained.
Managing Through the Pandemic and Looking to the Future
“No one expected the pandemic, but when it hit, it was scary,” Gary said. “People began hoarding and just cleaning out our shelves. We’d never seen anything like it.”
Throughout the pandemic Yando’s Big M never closed. Owners and staff worked hard to follow the mandates and recommendations to keep employees and customers safe. All staff was vaccinated and the store had a strictly enforced mask policy. Customers were supportive throughout the pandemic. Some even thanked the owners for sticking it out through it all.
Like most businesses, Yando’s continues to have issues with their supply chain and has changed some of the ways they do business. Often, they have to order in advance when they never had to before and other times the shelves just sit empty. Right now, it is difficult to find dog or cat food or acidic drinks. Earlier this year, the baby formula shortage that made national headlines impacted the store.
Yando’s is also struggling to find workers just like most businesses. The store could use about 10 more employees. The three owners fill in the gaps to keep the store open. “We’re working twice as hard now than we ever did, but we’re doing it.” Yando’s is one more small but mighty enterprise making a difference for the North Country community.
Yando’s Big M
14 Skyway Plaza
Plattsburgh, NY 12901