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Rural Grocery Initiative

Nick Graham as Keynote Speaker for Summit

The K-State Rural Grocery Initiative is pleased to announce the luncheon keynote speaker for the Fifth National Rural Grocery Summit on June 6-7 in Wichita, Kan. Nick Graham, current owner and operator of three supermarkets and one hardware store, will give his talk entitled, “10 Years of Being America's Youngest Grocer: Growing a business and sales in a declining area.”

Graham earned the title of America’s Youngest Grocer at 17, despite once confessing to CBS News that he had never been grocery shopping before. The oldest of five children, Graham was born on a family farm in southern Minnesota outside of Truman, which has a population of just over 1,000.

In 2006, Truman was faced with losing its only grocery store, the Main Street Market. Knowing what a loss this would be to the community, Graham bought the store while still a senior in high school with his life savings of $10,000. With a $25,000 loan from the local city council, the store was his, and officially reopened in October 2006. By July 2008, it was profitable.

"This community has been struggling for the past few years. It's kind of been in a downward spiral," Graham told CBS News back in 2006. "And I didn't want to see that continue." The town responded positively, and immediately rallied behind his efforts. Avoiding supermarkets half an hour away, the people of Truman did their grocery shopping exclusively at Graham’s store, with some even volunteering to help stock the shelves.

Soon afterward, Graham received an offer on his store, and sold it. He was soon drawn back to the grocery store business when Rolfe, IA, a town of nearly 600, had lost their grocery store to bankruptcy. Following a visit to the town, Graham purchased the store, and reopened its doors.

Graham then set his sights on Pomeroy, a 40-minute drive from Rolfe. In 2009, he opened a combined grocery store and café, which has become a hub for local residents. Graham’s range has continued to expand; he now owns stores in Fontanelle and Huxley, IA.

The secret to Graham’s success lies in personalized customer service. He explained to drakejournalism.com in 2010 that he’s willing to do whatever it takes. “We call people by their first name. We deliver groceries. We do whatever somebody wants us to do to make our customers happy,” Graham said.

Graham has spoken at the summit in the past. The focus of his talk will be about his story; how he got his first store, and how it progressed into a business operation. He also plans to be a part of a panel discussion on day two of the summit where he will discuss distribution challenges and solutions he uses in his operations.

“I'm always looking for new challenges and opportunities,” Graham said in an email. “I'm looking forward to the summit.”

For more information on the Fifth National Rural Grocery Summit, including registration information, please visit conferences.k-state.edu/ruralgrocery.