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2012 Power 50: No. 21 Charles Youngstrom

Charles Youngstrom leads a team at Aldi that’s continuing to grow new stores — and convert new shoppers.

Now comprising more than 1,200 stores in 31 states, Aldi today has its eyes on Houston, where in May it announced a plan to build 30 stores there over the next three years.

“This is a case of slow-and-steady-wins-the-race,” Neil Stern, senior partner at Chicago-based consulting firm McMillanDoolittle, said of Aldi’s continued expansion. “It’s not growth for growth’s sake, but it’s deliberate, conservative growth. They’re going to build distribution centers, and then build stores. The pattern has been very conservative and I don’t see anything that’s going to change that.”

Aldi expects to build 80 new stores in 2012, continuing a pattern of steady expansion that saw the chain debut stores in Dallas, Massachusetts, Florida and New York City in recent years. Using a tight selection of exclusive brands, a small, easy-to-shop footprint and eye-popping prices including deals on unique in-and-out items, Aldi carves out a niche for value-conscious shoppers wherever it goes. But it’s more than price that keeps shoppers coming back, said Dave Marcotte, an analyst with Kantar Retail, Cambridge, Mass.

“People in Aldi know they are getting things at unbelievably cheap prices, there’s no question about it. But I don’t get the feeling that’s the reason they keep coming over,” Marcotte told SN. “I think they keep coming over because the quality’s good, and there are things there they can’t get in other places. There’s some unusual stuff that can surprise you.

“It’s hard to describe them as a company that delights customers. That’s not really what they’re about,” he added. “On the other hand, they surprise them. And there’s something to be said for that.”

Aldi tallied an estimated $7.3 billion in sales in the U.S. last year, up about 13.6% over the preceding year’s estimated volume, making it one of the fastest-growing retailers in the country.

Youngstrom, who is a co-president at Aldi with Jason Hart, was unavailable for comment.

Based in Batavia, Ill., Aldi’s U.S. operation is a division of Germany’s Aldi Sud organization. The company relies on relentless efficiencies ranging from buying to selection to cart collection.

“As the low-price grocery leader, our highly successful business model is built on creating efficiencies at every level – from store construction to distribution to the specific products we stock,” the company said. “And one of the many reasons we thrive is our adherence to a simple principle that guides everything we do: If it doesn’t maximize sales or reduce expenses, then it’s not right for Aldi.”

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