Photo: King’s Olive Oil Owner Tena King displays her Silver Alabama Retailer of the Year award after receiving the designation from Alabama Retail Association officials in her store September 8. She is joined by local government officials. Pictured, from left: District 28 Representative Gil Isbell, District 4 Councilman Kent Back, King, City of Gadsden Mayor Sherman Guyton and Etowah County Commission Chief Administrative Officer Shane Ellison. (Emma Kirkemier/Messenger)
King’s Olive Oil, a downtown Gadsden staple since 2013, was recently selected as the Silver Alabama Retailer of the Year by the Alabama Retail Association.
Owner Tena King is the Silver Alabama Retailer of the Year in the Annual Sales Less Than $1 Million category. King’s Olive Oil placed second only to one still-unannounced business as one of 11 Retailers of the Year for 2022.
“I just look around, and everybody in this room has a special place for this award,” King said.
She noted that the Gadsden community, from loyal customers to elected officials, enabled her success. According to Chamber of Gadsden/Etowah County President and CEO Christi Robinson, King reciprocates local support.
“This well-known local business does so much for our community,” Robinson wrote in her nomination of King’s Olive Oil.
“[King’s] organization and communication skills are an integral part of her success, and she has worked diligently to help her fellow retailers as well,” said Downtown Gadsden, Inc. Director Kay Moore in a letter of recommendation.
Started in 1999, Alabama Retailer of the Year awards honor retailers who have demonstrated growth, innovation and a commitment to their respective communities. This year’s winners were selected from 42 entries submitted from a pool of 55 nominees.
“I like that [King] hired a customer service consultant,” noted one of the Retailer of the Year judges. “That someone invests in customer service is good.”
Anonymous judges were selected from across the Alabama retail industry. In the words of Alabama Retail Association President Rick Brown, “You’ve been judged by your peers, and you’ve won.”
“The Retailer of the Year judges really admired you, Tena, for the passion you have for your product and then how well you’ve done with such a niche market,” said Alabama Retail Association Public Relations Director Nancy King Dennis.
King has added videos to her website to bring the in-store experience online and sends handwritten notes to online customers. In the store, she has improved tools for credit card processing, transaction speed and inventory tracking, monitoring sales activity to ensure that she is properly staffed at peak times.
“This endeavor included moving many items around, as well as purchasing new ways to display items,” King said. “To date this improvement has assisted tremendously in increasing employee efficiency, as well as customer sales.”
In July 2013, a couple of months after her mother’s liver transplant, King was shopping in north Georgia with her husband, T.C. Morgan, when she entered a small store that sold olive oil.
She began asking questions and thinking how she could use these products to add flavor to her mother’s restricted diet. King purchased four bottles, and from that visit, she said she had “fallen in love with this concept of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.”
“That night I looked at [Morgan] and I said, ‘I really like that business,’” King said. “And he said, ‘So do I.’”
The next week, she and Morgan began making plans for King’s Olive Oil Company, which opened that year on Broad Street as an olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting room.
The company’s website notes that it “proudly brings to historic downtown Gadsden” the “old European custom” of “tasting of olive oil and vinegar prior to purchase.”
“We have more than 85 of the freshest olive oils and aged balsamic vinegars,” King said. “We also offer a wide array of healthy products that can be used with olive oils and balsamic vinegars, such as pastas, bread mixes, cake mixes, seasoning packs, bread dips, peanut butters, jams, Vermont maple syrups, olives and olive wood products.”
Popular balsamic vinegar flavors include everything from “traditional to red apple, fig, espresso, peach, tangerine, chocolate and honey Serrano,” while olive oils come in basil, black truffle, garlic, blood orange fused and chipotle flavors.
“Tena King is a retailer of the year every year to her customers, her four employees and the Gadsden community,” Brown said.
King thanked multiple community supporters, customers and local officials by name in her acceptance speech.
“I remember telling Kay (Moore) my idea, and she didn’t think I was crazy,” King said. “I remember T.C. and I going to the bank to open up a checking account with Bubba, and he didn’t think we were crazy.”
King pointed out that community support, including winning advertising in the Spectrum Pay It Forward program, helped King’s Olive Oil become the award-winning business it is today.
“I can’t say how much I appreciate this, so thank you,” she said.
Submitted by Nancy King Dennis, Alabama Retail Association. Reporting by Emma Kirkemier, Messenger News Editor.