Joseph Dreams His Future

June 5, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — Imagine having a dream in the middle of the night about making a life-altering decision — one that was not planned and that you probably didn’t have the money for.

What would you do?

In Phil Joseph’s case, he made his dream a reality.

“I had a dream one night that I bought Madison Food Town. So I woke up and told my wife ‘I know what I want to do now; I want to buy Madison Food Town.’ She told me I was crazy and to go back to sleep. But when I woke up a few hours later I still felt the same way and told her I was going to write a letter to Frank Thomas (the owner).”

So that is what Joseph did. He wrote a letter to Thomas telling him of his interest.

One minor problem: The store was not for sale.

After three weeks without a response — plenty of time to rethink his decision — Joseph decided to talk to Thomas personally.

After finding out Thomas had simply misplaced the letter but was very interested, Joseph wrote another letter and became part of a bidding process for the store.

“I told Frank, ‘Just give me the numbers you are looking for and I will work with them,’” Joseph said.

After meeting with a CPA and working through the numbers, however, Joseph discovered the store, which appeared to be successful, was actually heavily in debt and needed to get out from under it.

“What I needed was some investors and a way to raise money to purchase this store and turn it from a losing store into a winning store,” he said.

And he found the help he needed in a friend: Don Maine, chancellor of Davenport Educational Systems.

“I told him I needed help. I just didn’t know what direction to go in. So he brought me to the Grand Rapids Economic Club and they told me that they would give up to 35 percent if I could find a bank that would marry with them,” he said.

Joseph looked to many banks for assistance but had trouble getting a loan. He then decided to turn to Spartan Stores — a company he had a long relationship with — for help. “I talked to Spartan Stores and said, ‘Look, I am a first-time buyer, I am a minority and I am having some trouble getting a loan. Can you help me out?’ So they said that they would do what they could and go with me to the bank,” Joseph said.

Joseph went to a few different banks armed with his five-inch thick business plan and a high level of determination. He finally struck a deal with Mercantile Bank when he described how he was going to take a losing store and turn it around.

On March 30, Joseph closed Madison Food Town and renovated every nook and cranny to make what he calls “the sharpest store around.”

Joseph said one of the first steps was to rid the parking lot and surrounding area of panhandlers and beggars.

“They would convene in the parking lot to talk and laugh but it was portraying a bad image to the community, and they gave me the respect and moved on to somewhere else. The police have also been very helpful in keeping the area clean,” Joseph said.

The outside of the store was power-washed and painted, and the sidewalks were cleaned. On the inside, another checkout lane was added, as were new signs, new service and liquor desks and new shopping carts. The building also was cleaned and disinfected from top to bottom and the entire store was stocked with new, fresh merchandise.

Madison Food Town, located on the corner of Madison and Hall, recently reopened as one of the largest minority-owned supermarkets in the area.

Today, along with two business partners — Maurice Joseph, who is Phil’s brother and treasurer of the firm, and Norris Aikens, who takes care of advertising and marketing — Joseph runs a successful store, a skill he learned from previous experience.

In another case of good timing, Joseph had been laid off from one job and applied for the position of “building service manager” for Meijer Inc.

“I found out that that meant head of the janitors, but I had to start somewhere and I worked my way up from there,” said Joseph.

From there he moved to night store manager, night store director and then night store director of three different stores. He was next in line for store director when Meijer went through some reorganization and the man who was set to promote him was let go.

“I was told my job was secure but I didn’t feel too secure,” said Joseph. “That is when I had the dream and so I knew it was what I was supposed to do.

“We are still trying to get the bad taste out of the community’s mouth from the last administration, but we are moving along,” Joseph said. “It is a slow transformation but we will prove to the community that we are here, and we are here to provide them with a good, quality product that they will depend on.” 

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