Jungle Jim’s right-hand man marks 30 years

Butler County resident Phill Adams started by taking out trash.

Phill Adams doesn’t run the show at Jungle Jim’s, but he’s intimately involved with everything there.

The Butler County resident, who celebrated 30 years with Jungle Jim’s International Market last month, serves as its director of development.

During his years with the grocery business, he’s worked to help grow it from 40 employees working in 15,000 square feet of space to more than 900 employees working in the 300,000-square-foot Fairfield location and the 228,000-square foot Clermont County location.

Founder “Jungle Jim” Bonaminio still runs Jungle Jim’s, Adams gets involved in all aspects of the company and what it’s working on, “which is cool,” he said.

That includes design and construction, as well as working with different cities.

“Right now we have so many cities calling us wanting a store open,” he said. “We’re not ready for another location right now, but in the future we might, so we’ve got to build relationships. So if we do decided to do a third store, we have something to go back to and say ‘Here are some good opportunities.’”

The grocery store’s massive growth-via-expansions has led to Adams being interviewed along with Bonaminio by media outlets worldwide and seen him help launch the Clermont County location in 2012. However, his start in the business in 1986 was anything but grandiose.

Adams attended classes at Cincinnati Tech and soon realized he had “no desire” to be an engineer. While working several part-time jobs and serving in the Army Reserve, he jokingly said aloud to a female friend, “I’ve got to be around women sometime, right?” That friend’s father overheard and said, “I’ll get you a part-time job at the (Jungle Jim’s) store.”

“It was 10 hours a week doing trash and dishes in the deli, and I never left,” he said. “Who would have thought?”

In the late 1980s, Bonaminio was discussing opening a cooking school but didn’t have time because of dealing with another expansion, Adams said.

“I was walking by and I said, ‘Well, that’s easy” and I just kept going,” he said. “The next day he called me up in the office and said, ‘You can do a cooking school?’ and I said, ‘Yeah,’ and so he had me work on design and general construction with the contractors to open our cooking school.”

That’s when Bonaminio realized Adams was in the wrong department and moved him from the deli and several food service departments into construction and design via a slow, seven-year transition.

“I took a 3-day course in AutoCAD and taught myself how to do 3-D AutoCAD,” he said. “Over the years, having worked in all the departments, laying out the store and being able to understand the needs of different managers, it was a lot easier for me than it would be for an architect who walks in and says ‘You need this here, here and here.’”

Now, with the business doing so much international trade, it must warehouse much of its inventory itself because of numerous levels of transportation and logistics.

“It takes a lot to run a grocery store,” he said. “The amount of layers, if you were to take an onion, how many layers to get that person that box of tea is staggering.”

Leadership courses in the Army Reserve helped better understand how the store should lay out and how to work with people, he said.

In an attempt to be “quick and nimble” and cover as much ground as possible, Adams spends about 80 percent of each shift on a Segway, zooming from location to location to help customers and employees. He also religiously checks social media, even though the store has a marketing and creative services department that deals specifically with that task.

“I just look at it from a different perspective to say, ‘What if we did this, this and this? That person might be right,’ kind of thing,” Adams said.

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