WEGMANS W PET SHOP IS BITES BACK AT SUPERSTORES

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Wegmans Food Markets here is fighting back against pet superstores with a test 1,700-square-foot pet shop that sells pet shop-exclusive food and supplies.Operating under the W Pet Shop banner, the first department opened at Wegmans Eastway Plaza store here in late September. The unit adjoins the Wegmans supermarket, occupying space at the front of the store where Wegmans formerly

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Wegmans Food Markets here is fighting back against pet superstores with a test 1,700-square-foot pet shop that sells pet shop-exclusive food and supplies.

Operating under the W Pet Shop banner, the first department opened at Wegmans Eastway Plaza store here in late September. The unit adjoins the Wegmans supermarket, occupying space at the front of the store where Wegmans formerly operated a Pirates Cove in-store day care center.

W Pet Shop has entrances from the parking lot as well as from inside the main store, and it has its own checkout. It stocks Hill's Science Diet super premium pet food, Wegmans Super Premium private-label pet food, Zodiac flea control products and Kaytee bird and small animal products.

A second W Pet Shop opened Nov. 10 at a new store in Buffalo, and a third is planned for a store in Syracuse some time this year. All the units are about the same size.

The goal of the shop is to gain back some of the market share that has been lost to pet superstores, said Bill Blakley, business group manager at Wegmans.

"One of the biggest problems facing the supermarket industry is the super pet stores. Our market has been impacted by PetSmart. One of the economic reasons for opening this store was to prevent some of the movement to the alternative formats," he said.

The W Pet Shop has enabled Wegmans to offer brands that a regular supermarket pet department typically doesn't carry, such as Science Diet, because it uses a direct-store-delivery system. Wegmans is still negotiating to carry another food sold exclusively in pet stores, Iams.

While the shops do not sell pets, Wegmans has arranged for local veterinarians to visit the store occasionally to offer free advice on pet care, nutrition and handling.

Blakley said that from early indications it looks like W Pet Shop will be a hit with consumers.

"It is doing very well," he said. "We measure success by our customers' reactions. Our customers are responding very positively and welcoming the convenience to buy brands at the supermarket that had not previously been available."

Wegmans has maintained its traditional in-store pet aisle, which stocks traditional supermarket brands, including Alpo, Ralston Purina, Kal Kan and private label. Wegmans Super Premium pet food, which is available in both dry and canned formulas for cats and dogs, is sold in both locations.

"Wegmans Super Premium has been doing quite well," Blakley said.