SALT LAKE CITY — Associated Food Stores here is seeing volume increases at the former Albertsons stores it acquired 14 months ago, “and we're working now on building the brand,” Dick King, senior vice president of the cooperative, told SN.
Of 34 stores Associated acquired, 28 are operating under the Fresh Market banner, “but it's taken awhile for the name to catch on because people thought the stores were still being operated by Albertsons under another name,” King explained.
That confusion was caused when Associated announced in July 2009 it planned to acquire the stores but didn't take them over until early November, “so people didn't see any differences for several months,” King said.
Once Associated rebranded the stores, sales increased, King said, “and over the last year our sales are up 8% over what we were doing a year earlier.”
Some of the increases stemmed from remerchandising the stores, King said.
The company is using heavy radio advertising to talk about “freshness at prices you can afford,” he noted, and to stress the perimeter departments, particularly the bakery and service deli areas where the quality of goods has been upgraded, he said.
Associated also stresses the availability of service meat cases “because we want our people interacting with customers as part of the branding process,” he explained.
“In addition, Albertsons used ‘hot’ coupons in its ads, so we've continued that policy,” King added.
King also said he attributes a portion of the stores' sales increases to the autonomy Associated is giving its store directors, most of whom were holdovers from Albertsons.
“We told them we want them to treat each store like it's their own,” he explained. “Because they knew the stores and their customers best, we wanted them to be able to experiment — to expand or decrease sections, to add new items and to get involved with the community and create environments that appeal to their specific customers.
“We've even given department heads the authority to experiment, as long as they have a plan and have thought things through.”
Programs that work are shared with other store directors, King said, “though they're under no obligation to try anything. But we've seen special cuts of meat or special flavors of hamburger that worked at one store being tried by another — just little things that build customer awareness and let the directors feel like they're in charge.”
Working on their own, stores have built massive displays of oranges, potatoes or beverages or developed community events like a midnight sale when the latest Harry Potter videos went on sale, King said.
“We had one store in Park City whose director said he needed more gourmet and organic items, so we took other merchandise out and put that in, and he's been very successful.
“So it's just a lot of blocking and tackling.”
Of the 34 Albertsons stores Associated acquired, two — one in Lehigh, south of Salt Lake City and the other in Clinton, north of Salt Lake City — have been taken over and rebannered by Macey's, one of Associated's corporate banners.
“Macey's is strong in that part of the city, and at 60,000 square feet, the Lehigh store is a good fit for their warehouse-style programs,” King noted.
Of the remaining four stores, one in downtown Salt Lake was sold to an Associated customer and converted in March to a Hispanic format called Viva, King said. The other three are for sale.
Another Fresh Market, in Fort Union, Utah, closed at the end of March, he added.