Joe Pulicicchio wants to make it clear: His five-store retail chain does not want to put any big chains out of business.

“Without the chains, we couldn’t be who we are,” said Pulicicchio, produce and floral director at Poulsbo, Wash.-based Town & Country Markets Inc., whose stores include the Poulsbo Central Market, Ballard Market,
Bainbridge Island Town & Country Market, Millcreek Central Market and Shoreline Central Market.

Town & Country has found its own niche, Pulicicchio says.

“We don’t want to play the exact same game as the chains; they fill a role for the community, as well, so we’re not out to run the chains out of business.”

At the same time, he says the stores at Town & Country Markets Inc., which are located around the Seattle metro area, have a good bead on their customer base and can compete with the biggest players in the market.

His company’s mission is to offer a unique mix of products that customers can feel they spent their money well, he said.

Produce is central to that mission, and the company accomplishes its task in a certain order, Pulicicchio said.

“First, we have great people that really want to be connecting with their customer, and, second, we’re very seasonal and key in on great relationships with specific growers and shippers, including local growers,” he said.

Produce personnel are well-informed about the products in their departments, Pulicicchio said.

“We have a great, unique selection and have excellent customer service and get to know the customer, so it’s all done on a very fundamental and genuine level,” he said.

Town & Country stores are thriving in an era in which other independents across the country are failing because Town & Country employees are focused on that philosophy, Pulicicchio said.

“Stores like us that are disappearing are ones that get lost and wrapped up in (wanting to be) the price leader and, if that’s your only focus, you’re going to lose this game,” he said.

Each shopper has his or her own “value equation,” anyway, and the lowest price may not have top priority with all of them, Pulicicchio said.

“If we run our business around a customer whose equation revolves around the lowest price, we can’t offer the same quality we have,” he said.

It’s more about the end user’s experience in the store, he said.

“We feel we’re not the cheapest guy on the block but we also don’t feel we’re being unfair,” Pulicicchio said. “We feel in the end everyone is working toward the end user, who is going to tell us if we did it right.”

Jan Gee, president of the Olympia-based Washington Food Industry Association, described the independent retail sector in the state as “very healthy” and cited Town & Country as a good example.

“I always like to cite Town & Country, where they do weekly tours for customers and talk about the different fresh produce and what it is, how to store it to prolong the life of it, ideas on simple preparation,” Gee said.

That kind of communication is a vital service for produce connoisseurs, Gee said.

“Because we don’t have the old-fashioned schooling of having home economics, there’s a real lack of knowledge on the types of produce in stores and storing and prep, and they do that,” she said.

It’s emblematic of what’s going on in general in the independent sector in the region, Gee said.

“I think retailers have really honed their skills on creating very appealing displays of fresh products. It has been fun to see some local programs that the independents have had,” Gee said.