GREENSBORO, N.C. — The Fresh Market revealed ambitious expansion plans — and for the first time, provided a glimpse into its finances — in its filing for an initial public offering with federal regulators last week.
The specialty retailer here said it hopes to raise $345 million in a public sale of stock on the NASDAQ exchange. The funds would help aid expansion for the 95-store retailer, which said it could grow to as many as 500 stores in the U.S.
The IPO comes two years after the closely held, family-owned company called off plans for a potential sale to private equity investors. That event raised some questions about how well The Fresh Market was surviving the economic slowdown. Figures released in the registration showed the company recording declines in comparable-store sales in 2008 and 2009, although margins improved in 2009, and comps were up in the second half of the year.
Observers said that this momentum — along with an accommodating equity market and some hope for a continued economic rebound — could provide the retailer with the financial boost it seeks.
“Access to equity capital is available, so from the market standpoint it's certainly a good time,” Scott Van Winkle, a retailing analyst with Canaccord Adams, Boston, told SN.
The company said the founding Berry family would control more than 50% of the stock after the IPO.
“This gives their owners a way to get some money out of the business, which is what they wanted [in 2008] and still enable them to maintain control,” said Neil Stern, senior partner with consulting firm McMillan Doolittle, Chicago.
In financial figures included as part of the registration, The Fresh Market reported net earnings of $49.2 million on sales of $861 million and a 32.1% gross profit margin in 2009. Comparable-store sales were down by 1.1% in 2009 and down by 1.5% in 2008, following several years of strong comp increases. The company said deteriorating economic conditions leading to fewer customer visits and smaller average transaction sizes had contributed to the decline in comparable sales.
“The issue they had in 2008 was that the numbers started to slow,” Stern said. “In the context of the industry the numbers weren't bad, but when you're trying to sell to private equity, your story counts.”
The Fresh Market was founded in Greensboro in 1982 by the husband-and-wife team of Ray and Beverly Berry. Ray Berry, a former executive with Southland Corp., parent of 7-Eleven, today serves as chairman of The Fresh Market. His son, Brett Berry, and son-in-law Mike Barry are co-chairmen and former company executives.
The company runs stores ranging from 17,000 to 22,000 square feet specializing in fresh produce, prepared foods, wine, floral and specialty products, carrying between 9,000 to 10,000 SKUs. About 67% of its volume is perishables.
The company counts smaller stores as a competitive advantage, saying they facilitate interaction between employees and shoppers.
The chain has tripled in size since 2000 and operates in 19 states in the Southeast, Midwest and Northeast. It has plans to open 10 stores in 2010 but believes the potential exists for even faster growth. “We view expansion as a core competency,” the company said.
The company said it plans to drive comparable-store sales by increasing shopping frequency and basket sizes. Key elements of its plan to increase transaction counts include continuing to refine assortments and honing a differentiated shopping experience while generating loyalty through private brands. The company said it relies largely on word-of-mouth advertising. It aims to increase sales by offering new products, increasing local sourcing, cross-merchandising, and enhancing displays.
The Fresh Market said it aims to price competitively on grocery and dairy staples and beer and wine, but said it prices its distinct product offerings at a premium commensurate to their quality.
“For example, our Red Delicious apples, because of their size, color and lack of bruising, are priced at a premium to many conventional supermarkets. In addition, our ground beef, because it is ground fresh in our stores every day, is priced at a premium to conventional supermarkets, which may purchase their ground beef frozen and in bulk,” the company said in its registration filing.