WEST JORDAN — If you try to add Bruce Butcher, assistant manager at Smith’s Marketplace at 5710 W. 7800 South, as a friend on Facebook, you’ll get a notification that is only half true.
“Bruce has reached the friend limit. He can't receive friend requests right now.”
With 5,000 friends on Facebook, Bruce has reached the maximum number of friends the social media site allows on a personal account, but his ability to accept more friends in real life is far from being at capacity.
“Not only is he a grocery store manager and employee, he’s also people’s friend,” said Krissy Hakanson, a frequent shopper at the Smith’s Marketplace where Bruce works.
Known by many simply as “Bruce at Smith’s,” Bruce has almost 14,000 followers between the friends on his personal page and his public group, where he shares information about grocery store sales and giveaways for items as varying as a small bottle of ketchup to a 6-foot Christmas tree. Followers can even win a visit from the man himself, who will deliver free ice cream and do the winner's dishes.
But beyond being known in the community as a source for deals and freebies, Bruce is somewhat of a local celebrity thanks to his jovial demeanor and constant quest to serve others.
Take a walk with him through the grocery store and you’ll hear person after person greet him and see young children grin and yell, “There’s Bruce!” before crowding around him to say hello.
“He truly has an entire community convinced that they are his favorite person because for each in their own way, they really are,” said Jolyne Gailey, Bruce’s assistant at Smith’s.
Bruce’s official title at Smith’s Marketplace is the customer first assistant manager. While there are customer first assistant managers at other Smith’s stores, Gailey said Bruce takes his responsibility to meet the needs of the customers to a whole new level. He makes time to get to know the customers, remembering not only their names — he currently knows about 3,000 customers by name and has to goal to learn 20,000 or more — but also details about their lives, including the names of their kids, where they work and their likes, dislikes, hopes and dreams.
“It’s in my nature to want to do more than sell cans of corn,” Bruce said. “That’s pretty much the way it’s been through my grocery career. (Helping others is) the fun part of the job.”
Bruce, who celebrated his 50th birthday in March, has worked at grocery stores throughout Tooele, Salt Lake and Davis counties for 35 years. He attributes his desire for customer service excellence to his start at “small-town” grocery stores, where such behavior was expected. When he joined the team at Smith’s, he took his positive attitude with him as he was transferred from store to store and eventually landed at the Smith’s Marketplace on 7800 South when it opened about 2½ years ago.
There, every day of the week, customers can participate in events that range from free waffles on Waffle Wednesdays to “Price Is Right”-style games to win cash and other prizes.
Through his Facebook group, he lets customers know about special deals, which often makes the Smith’s Marketplace on 7800 South a top seller among other Kroger grocery stores in the nation. Recently, the store led the country in sales of Tummy Yummy fruit drinks when Bruce promoted a discount on Facebook.
“He’s pretty much Oprah Winfrey,” Gailey said. “If he posts it, the people will come, even if they think they don’t need it.”
“I only post it if it’s a good deal,” Bruce added. “I figure if I can’t help somebody by posting it, then I don’t want it to be a part of what I do.”
If a customer is looking for a product and can’t find it at the store, Bruce will find it for them and often pay for it out of his own pocket and deliver the item himself to the person at their home. If he knows someone needs some cheering up, he’ll invite them into the store to share a piece of cake and listen to their troubles. If it’s a customer's birthday, Bruce will give them free ice cream and play them “Happy Birthday” on his trumpet.
“You can't teach kindness the way Bruce has it,” Gailey said. “He is passionate about love, service and kindness.”
His kindness is something customers have come to love and appreciate — and has earned him fans outside of the state, as well. He’s been nominated for multiple awards, including Ellen Degeneres’ Nutella Spread the Happy Contest in February.
Not all of Bruce's service is public, though. When Hakanson’s daughter was in the hospital with a liver transplant rejection, he visited her there, brought her a laptop to watch Netflix and even went to a store other than Smith’s to get her some supplies she needed.
“He just goes way out of his way to make everybody feel important and loved,” Hakanson said. “I like to think I’m unique, but I know that I’m not. I know that he does this for lots and lots of people. We just think he’s amazing.”
His kindness has even inspired other community efforts, including Bruce’s Angels, a community help group that provides a food and clothing pantry for those in need.
“(Bruce) just loves everybody and wants everyone to be taken care of, so if we can go out and just make things a little bit better for someone else that all just stems from him,” said Charlotte Brown, one of the founders of Bruce’s Angels.
With a social media following as large as Bruce’s, he said he’s often asked if people follow him to unfairly take advantage of his unfailing kindness.
“Well, sure they do,” he said. “But am I going to turn down the whole world because six people are takers? No way. As a matter of fact, I’m going to give to the takers and I’m going to give them a hug to boot. I can’t judge them. Maybe they are being takers and maybe they are being entitled, but maybe they’re not. Maybe they’re just sad.”
Although Bruce’s methods may be a bit unorthodox for a grocery store employee, they’ve won the store loyal customers.
“I am a Smith’s shopper now,” Hakanson said. “I think Bruce brought a great spirit of customer service to his store and the employees are very kind. There’s just a whole feeling of happiness when you go into the store.”
And although Bruce isn’t complaining about the business advantages to what he’s doing, his motive remains something entirely different.
“After 35 years in the business, I’ve been through the excitement of increasing your profits or increasing your clientele or growing your business or doing whatever that is,” he said, “and at this point, it’s about making friends.”