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BJ’s Wholesale Club named Laura Sen chief executive officer just this February, but she’s no stranger to the company.
In fact, Sen has spent most of her career there, beginning in 1989 when the club store chain had only 20-some stores. Running the company since January 2008 as president and chief operating officer, she was appointed CEO when her mentor Herb Zarkin stepped down from that post.
Sen told SN that offering high-quality food plays a key role at BJ’s, based in Natick, Mass. “Food represents more than 60% of our sales, and sales of perishables have been outpacing other departments. We’re always introducing exciting new items to the mix.”
Emphasizing that BJ’s members are looking for top quality as well as value, Sen is quick to emphasize that they are not trade-down customers. “We carry a number of restaurant brands — Panera Bread, Legal Seafood, Cheesecake Factory, Todd English, Boston Market — and we carry all-natural meats, including our rotisserie chickens. In produce, we work directly with growers to ensure we get the best-quality produce.”
She said it is quality at a value price, plus an exciting product mix, that keeps sales positive.
“Laura Sen has been able to balance the commercial [sales] along with the consumer, better than BJ’s competitors have,” said consultant Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director at Strategic Resource Group in New York. “Earlier, consumers shopped at BJ’s once a month and stocked up. Laura has been able to get them in once a week, aiming to make BJ’s primary and supermarkets secondary.”
Sen said there’s also opportunity for more store growth within BJ’s current market area. “We plan to open six to eight new clubs this year, and we are building a pipeline for the future. Our long-range plan is to increase square footage by 5%-6% a year.”
— Roseanne Harper