For a business that's seen growth for over 65 years, one might think there'd be a 'secret of success' manual; a complex set of strategies that have kept it a player in the competitive grocery industry. But ask Frank Lovsin, founder of Alberta's Freson Bros. family-run grocery his guiding principles, and it's pretty simple.
"Have a purpose in life and treat people with respect. That's it. A purpose--a job--gives you the foundation to build your life upon; it gives you dignity and the opportunity to find happiness. And when you treat everyone well, it's reciprocal," said 87-year-old Lovsin, who still goes into work at the company's headquarters (now in Stony Plain) a few mornings a week. "It's amazing how important that is. And liking what you do matters too. For 65 years, there's never been a day I've disliked the job."
Lovsin has lived by those beliefs since he was a young man, finding his own purpose quite by accident after the mine shut down suddenly in his hometown of Mountain Park, Alberta in 1950. The family moved to nearby Edson and high-school aged Frank found work, first cleaning chickens "a job I really didn't like" and then at a butcher shop. With colleague Frank Resek, Lovsin opened the first Freson Bros. store in Hinton in 1955. It was a space not much bigger than a closet, on a street with no water, electricity or sewer, recalls Lovsin.
"The store was 24 by 32 feet. That first year was interesting," he laughed. "But we found a purpose in life, and put all our talent, energy and resources into that."
Freson Bros. is a now three-generation 'family affair' headed by Lovsin (with wife Agnes, or 'Granny' as she's known), and three sons Mike, Ken and Doug. Headquartered in Peace River for over 50 years, 'a fantastic place to raise kids', said Lovsin, the family and company move to Stony Plain over a decade ago has likewise been a happy one.
"We have 18 grandkids, and just got our first COVID-19 vaccinations, so it'll be nice to spend more time with family again," Lovsin said, though with the just-opened Freson Bros. store in Edmonton's Rabbit Hill Rd. area, work may be on the front-burner for a while. "We created 150 jobs at the new store. One of the reasons we've kept expanding over the years is to hold onto good people on our staff." Indeed, whenever there's a new store opening, it's not unusual to see Lovsin and 'Granny' taking time to chat with cashiers or sit down with staff for a cup of coffee.
Jokingly calling the expansion into Edmonton "going to the show for us small-towners," the new site has been five years in the making, Lovsin said. "Our son Mike finds the sites--areas with good arterial roads and easy access. We want to fit into the neighbourhood our store is in, and offer people what they need and want."
"For 66 years, we've been trying to solve people's problems," he said. "Up to a third of the new Edmonton store features quick-and-ready convenience foods, because the area has so many dual-income families. There's a great healthy choice section too, with vegetarian, gluten-free and other options." Describing the Freson Bros. sourdough--a highlight of the bakery and key part of the store's well-loved Father Dough Pizza--as 'simply the best in Alberta', Lovsin said the family even submitted their starter to the Sourdough Library in Belgium, where it continues to be regularly fed with Alberta flour.
While they vary in size, the new 'big city' Edmonton store is around 43,000 square feet, offering the food experiences and family-style grocery Freson Bros. is known for. From the market garden to the hot kitchen (sit down, home-style meals are part of every Freson Bros. store) and bakery, the stores aren't really a supermarket, but a blend of grocery, restaurant and food-to-go sections.
Lovsin said he doesn't mind recognizing the success his family grocery has earned through the years, providing employment to hundreds in 14 smaller Alberta communities, from Grand Prairie and Peace River, to Fort Saskatchewan, Stony Plain and Drumheller. But he knows the future is in "tomorrow, next week, next year. Opportunities are greater than they've ever been."