Led by its 34-year-old CEO, Rouses has made an aggressive play to become Baton Rouge’s biggest grocer

    On Aug. 16, local news outlets shared a video of Donny Rouse in hip boots, wading through a mass of floating groceries in the flooded Rouses Supermarket in Denham Springs. Wearing a protective mask and headlamp, Rouse surveyed the damage inside the darkened store and pointed to a waterline on a nearby display case that measured about four-and-a-half feet.

    As Business Report details in the cover story from the new issue, the video was shot just two days after historic flooding devastated Livingston Parish and destroyed the Rouses location at Juban Crossing, which wasn’t even two years old.

    Disaster had struck just as the 34-year-old Rouse was in his first year as CEO—the third generation to lead his family’s Thibodaux-based grocery chain. The flood could have presented a major setback. But Rouse acted quickly, calling contractors to begin restoration as soon as floodwaters receded.

    The Denham Springs store marked Rouses’ first foray into what looked to be a slow entrance into the greater Baton Rouge market, which has increasingly grown crowded for grocery stores in recent years. In two weeks, another location would open at Long Farm Village on Airline Highway, and plans were underway for another Baton Rouge store to be built this year.

    But Rouses’ expansion plans were thrust into overdrive in October, when it was announced the Rouse family was buying out all nine LeBlanc’s Food Stores locations in the Capital Region—suddenly making Rouses the largest grocery chain in the area.

    Rapid growth isn’t exactly anything new for the 57-year-old business, at least not over the past decade. Ever since Rouses expanded beyond the Houma-Thibodaux area and into New Orleans in 2007, it has continued to push into major markets along the Gulf Coast—from Lafayette to Gulf Shores, Alabama—at a breakneck pace.

    In the 10 years since, the company has grown from 16 stores in Louisiana to 54 across three states, with a workforce of more than 6,000 employees. Rouse says revenue has more than doubled during that time.

    “Either you’re going to grow or competition is going to come in and you’re gonna lose your business,” Rouse says. “You have to make a decision of what the future of the company is going to be, and we decided we wanted to grow.”

    News of the LeBlanc’s buyout made big headlines in the Capital Region and came as a surprise to many. For Rouses, though, it was a perfect fit. Although new to the market, Rouse believes his stores can win over Baton Rougeans the same way they’ve won over shoppers in other new markets: By providing a modern, high-quality shopping experience with a relentless focus on Louisiana products and suppliers.

    “I don’t expect the community to jump behind us right away because they don’t know us,” Rouse says. “But once we show what we can do, I think we will gain the trust and loyalty of the Baton Rouge community—and we won’t stop until we do.”

    And Rouse’s plans to expand his family’s business don’t start and end with its big buy in Baton Rouge. In fact, he’s already got his eye on another new market: Lake Charles.

    “There’s still a lot of opportunities in the Baton Rouge market for new stores,” he adds. “There’s room in Lake Charles; still room in Lafayette. We have a lot of holes to fill along the Gulf Coast. I enjoy the job and I’m only 34-years-old—so there’s no end in sight.”

    Read the full cover story, and check out a related story on how Baton Rouge grocers have been adjusting to increased competition in recent years by increasing offerings and carving out niche customer bases. Send your comments to editors@businessreport.com.

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