By Angela Lingg

The name “Dillon” means a lot to the people of Hutchinson, home of the Dillon Stores chain.

The Dillon family is well-known throughout the community.

David Dillon, a member of the famous family, spoke at Hutchinson Community College’s Entrepreneur’s Forum on March 3, to an audience of older adults, college students and high schoolers.

HCC business instructor Dan Naccarato hosted the event.

Dillon began his speech by walking his audience back through Kroger’s history, all the way to when Kroger began in 1883.

Dillon joined Kroger shortly after he graduated law school and moved to Denver.

“In Denver, their stores are called King Sooper’s, and at King Sooper’s they don’t care who a Dillon is,” Dillon said.

“My way of thinking about it was that you won’t have anyone trying to suck up to you.”

Making sure that no one gave him shortcuts for being a member of Dillon family was important to him, and that really stuck out to HCC student Wade Johnson, Hutchinson.

“He just didn’t come into this position because he’s a Dillon.” He had to work for it, Johnson said.

In Denver, Dillon worked at Fry’s, which was owned by Kroger.

The division Dillon worked in wasn’t doing well.

“I was failing… the worst part of failing was I did not know what was happening to me,” he said.

Dillon’s boss recognized that the company was struggling and he pulled Dillon aside to try to fix the problem.

His boss invested time in him to teach him how to run a business.

“For about a year and a half he talked to me in person or on the phone every day, seven days a week, about an hour or so every day, and he taught me the technical side of being a grocery merchandizer,” Dillon said.

“Today I am a pretty good merchandizer, but I would not have been if he hadn’t taught me.”

In 1983, Kroger bought Dillon Stores and David Dillon moved back to Hutchinson. However, in the 1990s Kroger had to face new challenges.

“In the 1990s all the supermarkets in the U.S., including Kroger, did some really stupid things,” Dillon said. “We let Walmart get into the grocery business with food and never did anything to try and stop them, from a price stand point.”

Over time, the company had to change, grow, and improve to stay competitive. The company strived to put the customers first.

Dillon shared with the audience some lessons he had learned.

First: Hard work pays off and experience matters. “It’s not just hard work, it’s whether you learn from the experiences,” Dillon said.

Secondly, “Values and virtues really matter…think of it as your brand,” Dillon said. “A brand is, after all, your promise to your customer. And if you break your promise, you lose some of your brand.”

Thirdly, Dillon stressed the importance of diversity in a company and sharing your diversity with others.

“If you don’t share with one another, you don’t get the whole picture,” Dillon said.

Lastly, he reminded his audience to continue to improve every year. “You’ve got to work smarter,” Dillon said.

The last lesson, on improving, is what stuck out the most to Asher Hodgkin, Hutchinson, who currently works as a front-end supervisor at Dillons.

“Continuous improvement: You always have to reinvent yourself. You can’t stay the same,” he said.

Dillon improved during his career and he went on to become CEO of Kroger.

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