For a large number of independent operators, 2013 was not a year to remember.
Of the companies on SN’s 2014 list of the Top 50 Small Chains and Independents , 40% experienced flat or lower sales —14 of whom saw revenues drop and six others who were stuck in neutral.
Asked why 2013 was such a difficult year, Peter Larkin , president and CEO of the National Grocers Association, told SN, “As I travel around the country, a lot of members tell me 2013 was a very challenging year, due in large part to a lack of consumer confidence.
“During a recession like we’ve gone through, people may have changed their shopping habits — and though the economy has been expanding slowly, I don’t believe consumers were feeling like they could go ahead and open their pocketbooks, because of a lack of confidence the expansion will continue.
“However, some retailers see more opportunities for 2014 and are cautiously optimistic, and they’re ready to put 2013 in the rear-view mirror. And while it’s too early to know if things will change, it’s clear that if people see growth in their paychecks and gain more confidence, this could be a very good year for independents.
“On the plus side, economists talk about a rebound in housing and an increase in the number of people buying new cars, which represents pent-up demand. So if people had extra money, that’s where the money went, which meant there was not much discretionary income available to spend in retail outlets.
“Whether things change or not will depend on how the economy evolves. If the rebound stops, then we’ll probably see a repeat of 2013. But if people see real growth in their paychecks and have more confidence, then it will be a good year.”
Ironically the top two retailers on SN’s Top 50 list had lower sales than a year ago.
Topping the list was PAQ , a Stockton, Calif.-based retailer that operates stores in Northern California and Hawaii. PAQ was No. 2 on last year’s list, behind Fareway Stores , Boone, Iowa, whose volume boosted it to SN’s Top 75 list for 2014.
Moving up to No. 2 on this year’s Top 50 list was Lowe’s Markets , Littlefield, Texas (No. 4 a year earlier); followed by Northgate Gonzalez Market , Anaheim, Calif., at No. 3; Redner’s Markets , Reading, Pa., at No. 4; and Cardenas Markets , Ontario, Calif., at No. 5.
In fact, with Vallarta Supermarkets , Sylmar, Calif., at No. 7, three of the 10 largest companies on the list are Hispanic-owned California chains.
New Store Growth
While many companies on the Top 50 list experienced minimal sales growth during the year, at least five companies saw their revenues grow because of new-store growth:
• Homeland Food Stores , Oklahoma City, which opened five additional stores and moved to No. 13 on the list from No. 23.
• Harps Food Stores , Springfield, Ark., which added five stores, including three acquired locations and a replacement unit, boosting it to No. 17 from No. 21 a year earlier.
• Reasor’s , Tahlequah, Okla., which acquired four locations and opened a fifth, pushing it to No. 25 this year, up from No. 38 the prior year.
• All American Quality Foods , Stockbridge, Ga., which acquired three stores and rose to No. 30 from No. 39 a year ago.
• Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage , Lakewood, Colo., which added 11 stores and jumped to No. 33 from No. 48.
Companies that saw big volume declines last year after disposing of stores included the following:
• Pyramid Foods , Springfield, Mo., which sold or closed 10 stores, ending up at No. 32 on the list, compared with No. 25 a year ago.
• Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co. , Charleston, S.C., which sold 37 stores to Harris Teeter, Bi-Lo and Whole Foods Market, dropping down to No. 38 from No. 15 a year earlier.
• Haggen , Bellingham, Wash., which closed seven stores during 2013 to land at No. 39, down from No. 18 in 2012.
In addition, Mi Pueblo Food Center s, San Jose, Calif., fell to No. 46 from No. 41 a year ago following a bankruptcy filing in July.
With Belle Foods, Birmingham, Ala., going out of business during 2013 and two of last year’s Top 50 chains moving up to SN’s Top 75 list (Fareway Stores , Boone, Iowa, and Bodega Latina , Los Angeles), the way was cleared for three new companies to join this year’s list:
• Good Food Holdings , Carson, Calif., making its debut at No. 41. Good Food operates 10 Bristol Farms and two Lazy Acres stores in California and added six high-volume Metropolitan Markets in Seattle to earn its way onto the list.
• E&H Food Group , Wooster, Ohio, whose combination of Buehler’s Fresh Foods Supermarkets and Ace Hardware Stores qualified it for the list at No. 49.
• Nugget Markets , Woodland, Calif., an upscale operator in Northern California that has been just below the cutoff for several years but finally found its way onto the list at No. 50.
For most U.S. independent operators, 2013 is a year they would just as well forget.
Of the companies on SN’s list of the Top 50 Small Chains and Independents , two out of every five operators experienced flat or declining sales as consumers sought to cut back on spending till they have more confidence in their own long-term financial futures.
It was a good year, however, for a handful of operators, most of whom grew through acquisitions or, to a lesser degree, new-store openings: Homeland Food Stores, Oklahoma City; Harps Food Stores, Springdale, Ark.; Reasors, Talequah, Okla.; All American Quality Foods, Stockbridge, Ga.; and Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, Lakeland, Colo.
Companies that shut stores and saw sales decline include Pyramid Foods, Springfield, Mo.; Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co., Charleston, S.C.; and Haggen, Bellingham, Wash.
The Top 50 list also reflected the growing power of Hispanics in the U.S. economy, with three of the top 10 independents — Northgate Gonzalez Market, Anaheim, Calif.; Cardenas Markets, Ontario, Calif.; and Vallarta Supermarkets, Sylmar, Calif. — advancing up the list and combining for sales of nearly $2.6 billion, and growing.
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