JERICHO, N.Y. -- In an effort to reposition itself as the market leader on Long Island, Waldbaum's is launching a new upscale format on the North Shore, while wooing customers in all locations with a year-long promotion recalling the chain's heritage as a New York grocer.
The new store -- which opened in Jericho on Sept. 10 and emphasizes perishables in a "fresh market" setting -- provides customers with a wide selection of natural, organic and gourmet products; the services of a full-time concierge and nutritionist; and health and cooking classes almost every night of the week. Four other units in nearby towns on the North Shore of Long Island -- Stony Brook, East Setauket, Rocky Point and Westbury -- have been remodeled in the past few months and have piggy-backed "grand reopenings" in the last three weeks onto the Jericho store in what looks like an effort to sub-brand Waldbaum's in more affluent Long Island neighborhoods as a natural/specialty destination.
Unlike other Waldbaum's units, the Jericho store has just one entrance and exit that takes customers through the perishables department. When SN visited on Oct. 16, the vestibule of the new Jericho store was brightly decorated in harvest/Halloween accents and featured a 100-year anniversary papier-mache cake as part of the chain's "Celebrating 100 Years of Food and Family" promotion (see sidebar on Page). Also in the foyer were pots of brightly colored chrysanthemums for sale.
Upon entering the store, customers encounter the floral department, which opens up into the market-like perishables area. At the entrance to the fresh area, a large four-paneled split video screen silently touts the department's offerings with video images of grain fields, farmhouses, weathered fishermen, hot loaves of bread in brick ovens, and steaming meat and vegetables on a grill. The video also pictures every department manager, and announces that "We Bring the World to Your Door."
The fresh department area surrounds the customer with murals that seem to wrap around the perimeter, featuring farmers and other food workers and families eating dinner or enjoying picnics. The mural uses two layers of images, with pop-out four-color paintings superimposed on a daguerreotype-like background.
The produce department has additional four-color signs on which growers are featured on placards. The well-appointed fruits and vegetables -- stacked on tiered islands and in wicker baskets, as well as against one long wall -- are clearly marked with signs indicating "conventional" (green) or "organic" (yellow) and that list the nutritional content (carbohydrate, fiber and protein count, and the amount of sodium, calcium, iron, vitamin A and vitamin C). In the centerfold of the weekly flier specific to the Jericho store, Waldbaum's displayed its new "organic" yellow-and-green label and boasts "you won't find a wider variety of organic foods in town -- fruits and vegetables, meats, seafood, bakery, grocery and dairy products."
The new merchandising at Waldbaum's looks a lot like what is done in upscale natural supermarkets like Whole Foods and Wild Oats.
Gary Giblen, an analyst with C L King Associates, New York, said, "There is a pattern in the [supermarket] industry to take the higher ground," especially in areas like Long Island, where chains can't expect to succeed on price or rampant discounting alone. "Safeway said that its strategy was to 'Whole Foods ourselves."' According to Giblen, it would make sense for Waldbaum's to try a similar approach.
Near the produce section is the concierge's "office space": a polished executive desk and leather chair for Virginia White, the party planner, and two companion leather chairs in front of the desk for customers. Behind the concierge's desk is a tall bookcase filled with cooking tomes and a display of the "Entertaining Guide," Waldbaum's four-color glossy booklet featuring the store's "culinary professionals" and a wide array of gourmet items from the fresh departments.
According to White, her service is a pilot program -- the first of its kind for Waldbaum's. White works full time and is available to plan anything from "dinner for two to a backyard wedding for 1,000." White is available to assist customers with banquets, company parties, office lunches and the like, and can help customers choose menus and shop for the necessary items.
The rest of the fresh-market area includes the usual deli, salad bar, pizza, cheese shop, bakery and cafe departments and, across the back of the store, the seafood and meat departments. Some specialty items in the fresh area include Italian style (gelato) ice cream, brick-oven pizza, sushi, chicken wings, cous cous with curry, and cranberry grain salad in an "antipasto palazzo." Pickles and sour tomatoes can be scooped from old-fashioned barrels.
Organic products can be found in other parts of the store, especially in the natural grocery aisle, which includes a frozen section (nine doors) and refrigerated section of mostly dairy products: soy cheeses, tofus and other meat substitutes, and organic butter, milk and cheeses. Also in this aisle are sections for Atkins and low-carbohydrate items and bulk foods.
The staff nutritionist, Colleen Montgomery, has a station near the pharmacy, which was giving flu shots on the day of SN's visit. Montgomery is on hand to help customers with nutritional planning and healthy eating, according to in-store signs. She is conducting nutrition tours in various parts of the store every Tuesday in October, as well as classes on other topics on the weekend. The store is hosting "Knowledge Nights" on Wednesdays, with topics like "Healthy Bones," "Diabetes and You," "Vitamins and Your Immune System" and "Healthy Halloween." On Thursdays, customers can learn about taking care of mums and painting floral centerpieces. On Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays, they can get cooking lessons from chefs.
During the week of SN's visit, the 16-page circular that featured many specialty items was being distributed at the Jericho and Westbury store only. The Westbury store had launched its grand reopening at the end of September, according to an associate.
Meanwhile, the East Setauket and Stony Brook stores had celebrated a reopening on the weekend of Oct. 9. The Rocky Point store had also re-opened in early October. Visits to the Stony Brook and East Setauket stores turned up store-specific, "grand opening," four-page circulars. Each of the stores used the same promotion, but inside each featured a large photograph of the store's "Fresh Captain." Some of the fresh items on sale included Master Choice 60% Brie cheese, one pound for $5.99; 12-packs of fresh-baked mini croissants for $2.49; and 10-ounce packages of Master Choice shrimp rings with cocktail sauce for $3.99.
Giblen noted that one of A&P's deficiencies has been in hiring and retaining knowledgeable staff.
"A&P is good at developing stores, but they have a harder time keeping things going," he said. "Historically, they open beautifully, but fade quickly. They need good discipline, knowledgeable employees and dedicated field management. Otherwise, their investment will fall by the wayside."
The new and newly reopened stores appear to be featuring members of its staff as culinary cognoscente. Even at the associate level, employees are getting some training. Workers in Lindenhurst and East Setauket told SN they had been trained over the summer in preparation for the centennial celebration.
The reopened stores on the North Shore have been remodeled, and feature similar signs and merchandising in the produce department and elsewhere in-store. Yet the effect is not quite as lavish, since these units are smaller and older than the new store in Jericho. Both remodeled stores, however, had one huge sign in-aisle (not found in Jericho) that repeated the new tag line: "Celebrating 100 years of Food and Family."
Waldbaum's Campaign Bets on Heritage to Win Back Customers
LINDENHURST, N.Y. -- Waldbaum's kicked off a year-long marketing campaign called "Celebrating 100 Years of Food and Family" last month, using Labor Day and the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as occasions to dramatically reduce prices across categories and introduce the new tag line.
The tag line appears on banners outside the stores, on signs at the head of grocery aisles, on price markers and in weekly circulars. Waldbaum's has also changed its logo to green and gold, and its red leaf has been replaced with a gold one. The store now runs "Gold Leaf" specials, which are touted on the promotional signs.
Hot promotions will continue through the end of the calendar year, according to Burt Flickinger, an analyst at the Strategic Resource Group, New York. After that, circulars will be "flagged and pulsed through August of 2005, for example, with a burst ad in every promotion announcing the 100th anniversary." According to Flickinger, "The ad layouts, ad designs, scorching prices and dramatic discounts are very effective," and the promotion is an "inspired initiative" on the part of Montvale, N.J.-based A&P, which is Waldbaum's parent company.
SN contacted A&P officials, but they declined to comment for this story.
Waldbaum's is reminding customers of its 100-year legacy in all its stores. SN visited units in the New York communities of Lindenhurst, East Setauket, Stony Brook, Commack, Jericho, Baldwin, Baldwin Harbor and Valley Stream and found ubiquitous birthday celebration reminders, which were hung above endcaps at the head of aisles in each of the stores. On the elegantly designed signs were scenes of families celebrating in various venues: around a holiday table, at a picnic outdoors, and so forth. The images seemed to be photos, but they looked as if they could have been painted. The pictured celebrations appeared inside a border of the number "100" and carried the tag line at the bottom. These signs alternated from aisle to aisle, with white-and-gold signs on which a simple line drawing of the Gold Leaf appeared along with the tag line.
Waldbaum's had changed its aisle markers in the stores SN visited. In the Lindenhurst, Baldwin and Valley Stream stores, large aisle markers were suspended between the aisles on either side. On the back side of each aisle sign were additional advertisements, ranging from reminders of the Baby Club and Master Choice products to pictures of burgers, chicken, steamed mussels and freshly baked bread. In the Commack store, a variation on the aisle sign carried the "100 Years" tag line.
In various departments, additional signs reminded customers about service and quality. For example, in the fresh department, one sign read: "After checking our produce for freshness, we check it again. Then we do it all again." Fresh corn cobs peeking out of their husks were pictured on the sign along with the tag line.
In a promotion that ran in New York City's borough of Staten Island at the beginning of the month, Waldbaum's used its circular to remind customers that "The Older We Get, The Better We Get." Additional copy read: "100 years of growing up in the neighborhoods of Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk. 100 years of respect for you, our customer, and your need for only the freshest foods -- whether for traditional family meals or the celebration of special occasions. 100 years of a business that started as a family business. And today whose business is still family. Your family."
Each of the stores on Long Island that SN visited carried many "Gold Leaf" specials. One noteworthy promotion was "Ten for $10," which allowed customers to choose from a variety of items. These included 18-ounce Old Fashioned Oats, America's Choice Chunky apple sauce in 24-ounce jars, Green Giant vegetables in 14- to 16-ounce packages, Land O Lakes margarine in 16-ounce packages, and America's Choice apple juice in 64-ounce bottles, to name a few.
Produce specials included two, 10-ounce packages of stuffing mushrooms for $5; organic bananas at 69 cents per pound; and pomegranates and persimmons, two for $3. Various brands of apples were $1.49 per pound.
Flickinger noted that the 100-year promotion "harkens back to Brooklyn and the days of the founding family of Julia, Arthur and Ira Waldbaum, and the Brown Brothers and the chain's long-standing kosher/Jewish heritage." However, a fabulous promotion will not be enough to turn things around, Flickinger added. Waldbaum's has a long way to go before it can regain the status it once held as a retailer in the New York-New Jersey market area.
"Waldbaum's needs to address some core consumer issues and try to rebuild the business as other competitors -- such as Whole Foods, Fairway, Citerella, Stop & Shop and King Kullen -- close in," said Flickinger.
Originally, there were 117 units when A&P bought the chain some 13 years ago. Now there are 77 stores, mostly on Long Island. Waldbaum's has become a minor player in the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. Currently, there are seven stores in Staten Island, six in Queens, and five in Brooklyn.
The market leaders on Long Island are Pathmark and King Kullen, which are neck-and-neck, according to Flickinger, with Waldbaum's in third place.
According to International Demographics, Houston, Texas, ranking of retailers in the New York metro area (which includes Long Island), Waldbaum's is No. 5, after Pathmark, Shop Rite, Stop & Shop and A&P.