Business Person of the Month: Lathan Ross Alexander

Lathan Ross Alexander, President & Co-Ownerlathan_alexander

Alexander’s Highland Market

18111 Highland Market Drive

Baton Rouge, LA   70801

Phone:  225-615-7800

Store Hours:

Mon – Sat: 6am – 10pm

Sun:  7am – 9pm

“Any definition of a successful life must include serving others” (George Bush)

Lathan Alexander “grew up” in the family grocery business.  Richard Alexander, Lathan’s great-grandfather, opened the first Alexander’s grocery in Ascension Parish in 1921.  Murray, Richard’s grandson and Lathan’s father, took over the store in 1977 and named it Murray’s Supermarket. This store is still in operation today and is managed by Lathan’s brother Reid.     Murray’s Supermarket was Lathan’s “center of gravity” as a child.  His mother was a school teacher in Ascension Parish and his dad ran the store.  Lathan would attend elementary school, which was just around the corner, and walk to the store after school.  He would do his homework there and “help out” in the store until it was time to go home.

Lathan is a 1984 graduate of St. Amant High and a 1988 graduate of LSU’s College of Business (Accounting).  After graduation, he worked for one year as an accountant at a private firm.  In 1989, he chose to return to the family business where he (along with his brothers, Ryan and Reid) continues to actively develop and expand their two core businesses – the retail grocery store business and the aftermarket automotive parts business

“Although I was raised in a family business that I inherited with my siblings, I chose to continue this because I love serving customers. Life in a family business taught me a good work ethic, but life in the grocery business taught me about service and human interaction. I’ve learned how to connect my faith life to my business. By recognizing the opportunity to serve the community, my work life took on a far greater significance for me. And that is rewarding. It became the basis of my entrepreneurial idea.”

In October of 2011, the Alexanders purchased 3.5 acres at the corner of Highland Road and Perkins Road East to build a 37,000 square-foot state of the art facility that houses a cafe, bakery, deli, floral department, and pharmacy along with an old-world style market offering organic foods, locally harvested produce, fresh seafood, choice meats, and an extensive wine department. Brothers Lathan, Ryan, and Reid Alexander lead the effort to ensure Alexander’s Highland Market continues the family’s reputation for excellence.

It is the mission of Alexander’s Highland Market to provide a full service neighborhood grocery store with a strong sense of community ownership. Rooted in Biblically-based principles of welcome and service to our neighbor, disciplined work ethic, and charity, The family’s intent is to provide an inviting and warm atmosphere, amiable customer service, the finest quality products available utilizing local brands & growers whenever possible, and a selection of wholesome products that can only be delivered by a locally-owned family operation that shares and understands the history and unique culture of our community.

Customers will find that Alexander’s Highland Market is owned and operated by their neighbors. And like visiting a neighbor, customers will experience a similarly warm and friendly welcome. Throughout the entire organization is a sense of pride that comes from belonging to this special community in the heart of South Baton Rouge. “We’re from here, too!” Lathan likes to remind people.

“It’s our mission to be the store of choice for the neighborhood, the connoisseur of good food, and the amateur chef,” he says.  The choice of where to spend the food dollar is up to the customer.  At Alexander’s Highland Market, the customer can choose organic, gluten free, hormone free, or regular processed food items.  They can choose healthy options and quick options.  If the customer is looking for convenience, they can purchase and take home prepared food ready to serve, or foods that are oven-ready for cooking and serving at home.  The market also carries a full line of staples: meat, fruits, vegetables and spices for “start from scratch” meals.

According to Lathan, small local businesses have a role to play in fostering community in the market place.  “In ways that big box national retailers can never understand, we strive to connect with our customers on a personal level. We try to provide a forum for community to happen. As a neighborhood store we do that by creating an environment where our neighbors can not only shop, but also visit with their neighbors in an environment that reflects the culture of our community.”  Alexander’s Highland Market provides a cafe that is comfortable and decorated in our city’s history – a place to gather for socializing, meeting, or relaxing in an environment that celebrates the connection to our city’s past and present.

That sense of community in the marketplace is also enhanced through Alexander’s association with local small businesses. Because they are small and local, Alexander’s more effectively supports the local economy by hiring local citizens and providing a way for them to support their families, and by utilizing local businesses rather than national firms to provide the services needed to run the business. For example, Alexander’s Highland Market hires local attorneys, accountants, insurance agents, and advertising firms, whereas most national retailers do not.

“National firms do not provide any of this web that is necessary for our whole community to thrive. Without small local businesses, there would be a lot of local farms, businesses, and professionals who would not have a job. That is what is so important about local small Louisiana businesses. It is my hope that more people understand the value these connections provide to the health of our local economy.  Not only that all small businesses network and give their best effort to support each other, but that we everything possible to use a local alternative before resorting to an out-of-state alternative.”

Lathan believes the greatest challenge for all small businesses is the role of administrator. The inevitable tasks of handling administrative matters are multiplying exponentially in this ever more complicated business environment and take up more and more time. For him, those are necessary tasks, but they take him away from what got him into the grocery business in the first place – serving and interacting with customers.  “Whatever business venture you decide to pursue, make sure it is something you can be passionate about. Without a passionate interest, you will never be able to justify the time it takes to run a successful business.”

The Alexander family supports various charities such as the Food Bank, Cancer Services, and Community School for the Arts. Lathan is a member of St. George Catholic Church where he has participated in the past as a Baptism sponsor and now participates as a Confirmation Sponsor.  For business advice, he reads the Wall Street Journal and reads historical fiction in his leisure time.

The family also owns B&B Automotive Warehouse and Blues Auto Parts, a chain of 6 stores located in Gonzales, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Houma and Hammond.  They are wholesale distributors of aftermarket automotive parts and distribute their lines to general repair shops, tire stores, paint and body shops, government agencies, and retail auto parts stores.  They also specialize in delivering quality professional products with unparalleled service and are a member of the Federated Auto Parts network.  These stores are currently run by managers, industry professionals, who have been with the company for 10 years or longer.  This arrangement leaves Lathan free to concentrate on Alexander’s Highland Market.  “This was where my heart was.  Having your own business is something you can build, run, succeed or fail.  Whatever happens, you only have yourself to blame.”

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