AHOSKIE – Nneamaka Rapu knows all about the “small” concept.
Rapu, who now manages Wal Mart of Ahoskie, started out with this retail giant 13 years ago as a cashier. She listened, she learned and she began to climb the corporate ladder.
Today, she manages a staff of 190 associates – a team that despite living and working in a tiny town, also knows that dynamite often comes in small packages. That Ahoskie Wal Mart team can proudly boast of a big award recently presented by their corporate bosses – the Small Format Store of the Year for 2012.
Under Rapu’s leadership, the Ahoskie store has earned that honor, one very prestigious within a company the size of Wal Mart – the world’s largest retailer with 8,500 outlets in 15 countries.
The award was two-fold. Not only did Wal-Mart recognize the Ahoskie location as its Small Format Store of the Year, the outlet – located in the Ahoskie Commons Shopping Center – was also selected as the top Eastern Regional Business Unit of the Year. Rapu said the latter award involved competition among 174 stores in the region. She added she wasn’t sure of the number of small format stores in the entire Wal Mart chain.
Rapu has managed the Ahoskie Wal Mart since August of last year, coming here from Fayetteville.
“This is a great community here and we feel we have forged great relationships with the people of this area,” she said.
She said the award was a “big deal.”
“Not only were we recognized at our own level, but to win it against all the stores our size across the nation is something that makes me proud and those who work here proud,” Rapu stressed. “We did a great job to receive this recognition. This award is not just about us, it’s also about the community we serve. I feel we have amazing associates, but amazing customers as well. We try to take care of their retail needs, day in and day out, and I promise we will never lose focus of that commitment, award or no award.”
The Store of the Year competition is based on different criteria – the work of the associates and sales/profit. Rapu said the Ahoskie Wal Mart accounted for a two percent increase in sales and profit during 2012 when compared to the previous year.
Another key element in the Ahoskie store’s favor was the fact that nine of its associates were promoted to managerial positions during 2012.
“We’re a great training ground here for those who have a passion to advance, to take that next step up, and it makes me proud to see them promoted to management positions,” Rapu said.
Rapu and the Ahoskie Wal Mart associates also take pride in being involved in local charitable events. They team to make monthly donations to churches and schools as well as the Ahoskie Food Pantry. The Ahoskie associates raised $6,500 last year ($1,000 over their goal) for the Children’s Miracle Network. They were also involved in the “Read Across America” effort within local schools.
The Ahoskie Wal Mart also got involved in a local issue dealing with the availability of mandated public school uniforms. Rapu said they met with local PTA groups as well as public school officials in developing a strategy to ensure the required clothing was available at her store.
“I feel our community involvement is second to none,” she stressed. “Everybody thinks that we’re just in business to make money. We do want to make a profit, but at the same time we want to utilize that profit by reinvesting in our business to help drive down costs to the consumers, especially in this economy.”
Personally, Rapu said she likes being an award winner.
“It’s a competitive thing between Wal Mart store managers; we’ve now got the bragging rights here in Ahoskie,” she stated. “I’m very humbled that Wal Mart recognized our work and chose to honor this little store in Ahoskie. It’s a lot to live up to as we move forward, but we will continue to always do our best and maintain the standard on which we were judged as the best store.”
In the same breath, Rapu said she has learned how to manage from those within Wal Mart that have guided her career to date.
“I’ve met a lot of great people, great managers, great mentors with Wal Mart,” she said.
The new Ahoskie Wal Mart SuperCenter is scheduled to open in October.
“We will expand our offerings at that new store,” Rapu promised. “We’ll have a deli, a bakery…a full service supermarket.”
So, does she aspire to win Store of the Year honors at that level?
“Sure, we’ll be out for that one as well,” Rapu concluded.
The new SuperCenter will encompass 150,000 square feet and will open up additional job opportunities. Rapu said applications are currently being taken for new positions at the SuperCenter.