Chuck Roskovich might be entering unfamiliar territory, but he certainly knows the Publix playbook.
With nearly 40 years of experience at Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets  — starting as a store-level employee in 1975 — Roskovich is spearheading the company’s expansion into the Charlotte, N.C., market.
Named VP of the company’s nascent Charlotte division in late 2012, he recently was on hand for the company’s first North Carolina opening, in the Charlotte suburb of Ballantyne.
“We’re going to rejuvenate some real estate in this market,” Roskovich was quoted as saying in TheCharlotteWeekly.com. “We’re going to make the neighborhood just a little bit better.”
Roskovich was unavailable for comment for this article.
“He has spent his whole career there. He knows the Publix playbook — which, by the way, has been very successful,” said Jose Tamez, managing partner at executive search firm Austin-Michael, Golden, Colo. “There’s no need to deviate from that.
“He’s going to be their field general, but I suspect they will continue to be highly centralized from Lakeland.”
Tamez noted that at Publix, the company’s reputation for operational excellence, customer service and its strong continuity among management go hand-in-hand.
“When you have as much continuity in the workforce as Publix does, it makes execution really seamless for them,” he said. “That’s especially important in the grocery industry, where margins are so slim.”
Began career as clerk
Roskovich started out at Publix as a front-service clerk and spent much of his early career in the meat department, including being a manager at Publix’s first metro Atlanta store in Marietta, Ga. He became a store manager in 1993, district manager in 1995, regional director in 2000, Atlanta Division VP in 2008 and SVP of product business development in 2011.
“Chuck’s extensive leadership experience and his passion for retail store operations will help make our entry into North Carolina a great success,” said Ed Crenshaw, Publix’s CEO, at the time of Rosakovich’s appointment. “We share Chuck’s excitement in taking on this new opportunity to build Publix’s brand in this important new market.”
Roskovich’s experience in Atlanta perhaps became particularly significant after the acquisition this year of Harris Teeter Supermarkets by Cincinnati-based Kroger Co.  Publix went head-to-head against Kroger when it expanded into Atlanta in the late 1990s, and has since expanded its way to the No. 1 market share, ahead of Kroger, according to Metro Market Studies, Tucson, Ariz.
In Charlotte, Harris Teeter had in recent years moved ahead of Food Lion  to become the No. 1 player in that market, and now has market share of about 26%.
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“Harris Teeter is especially well entrenched in that market, and is now further backed by the wealth and experience of Kroger,” noted Neil Stern, senior partner, McMillanDoolittle. “It makes what was going to be a challenging market for Publix before the acquisition even more challenging.”
He said he didn’t think Kroger’s acquisition of Harris Teeter would alter Publix’s game plan, however.
“If you look at what Publix has done historically, they take a long-term view of expansion,” Stern explained. “Look at what they did in Atlanta, which is obviously a Kroger stronghold. I don’t think Kroger is going to scare them away.
'Both chains will prosper'
“If you look at Atlanta as a study, it would suggest that Harris Teeter will more than hold their own, Publix will inevitably gain their market share, and it will be tough for everyone else. I expect that ultimately both chains will end up prospering in the market.”
He suggested that Food Lion, which has recently seen some success through a revitalization effort, could “stay somewhat out of the fray” by sticking to its traditional focus on low prices, while Harris Teeter and Publix battle for a slightly different customer.
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Stern noted that a lot of Publix’s initial store sites have been in suburban areas, while Harris Teeter has built a significant presence particularly in the city of Charlotte itself.
“Charlotte is a growing market,” he said. “Publix has been opening in a lot of the outlying areas, but eventually they will be able to penetrate more into Charlotte proper, which is where Harris Teeter has great strength.”
Likewise, Chuck Cerankosky, an analyst at Northcoast Research, Cleveland, who follows Kroger and followed Harris Teeter when it was a public company, noted that one of the main challenges for Roskovich will be finding the right store locations.
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“I think it’s going to come down to store site selection,” he said. “Publix is not a price operator, and they are going to have to find the right sites.”
Among Harris Teeter’s strengths — further enhanced by the backing of Kroger — has been that it “was very good at capitalizing on the real estate opportunities in the greater Charlotte market,” Cerankosky noted.
“Harris Teeter was very well run, and now it is strengthened by teaming up with Kroger,” he said. “I think Harris Teeter will be everything it had been, but it will now have a lower cost structure.”
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