Wednesday, May 01, 2002

Kroger moves to bigger stores

6 big new markets under way in area

By Anna Guido
Enquirer contributor

        Floral shops, 24-hour photo processing labs, bar-code scanner checkouts. In all of these areas, Cincinnati-based Kroger Co. has been a market leader.

[photo] Touring the Beckett Ridge Kroger are Tommy N. Cooper (left) a senior facility engineer; Robert J. Hodge, president of the Kroger Co.; and Gary Bill, store manager. This store is being expanded; other stores are being replaced with larger ones.
(Gary Landers photo)
| ZOOM |
        To keep its supermarkets in line with suburban growth and the latest customer expectations — which include fuel centers, drive-through pharmacies and natural-food and nutrition items — the nation's largest supermarket chain is expanding and relocating and building larger stores.

        In Kroger's Cincinnati-Dayton Division, six such projects are under way or planned this year in West Chester Township, Fairfield, North College Hill, Vandalia, Wilmington and Springfield.

        “In most of these cases, we are relocating smaller, under-merchandised stores to larger facilities that will incorporate a greater number of products and varieties,” said Monte Chesko, real estate manager for Kroger's Cincinnati-Dayton Division.

        “We've been very active in this market the past six years,” he said. “We continually monitor growth areas, looking at population growth and actual growth of a store's business — these two items set the stage for a store that is conducive to an expansion opportunity.”

Extra services

        As long as supermarkets have had unused space, they've offered complementary services to grocery shoppers, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Food Marketing Institute, an international trade association representing the supermarket industry.

        Through the years, retailers seeking to maximize their dollar volume per square foot have wedged in everything from Ticketmaster outlets to health clubs.

   • In 1972, the first bar-code scanner checkout in the United States was tested at a Kroger in Kenwood.
   • Less than three years after opening the first in-store U.S. floral shop in 1979, Kroger became the nation's largest florist and is now the world's largest.
   • In 1982, Kroger opened the first 24-hour photo processing service in the United States at an Atlanta store and became the market leader in in-store photo processing within three months.
   Sources: Kroger Co., Food Marketing Institute, Supermarket News
        Kroger operates more than 2,400 stores in 32 states. This year, the company expects to remodel between 140 and 150 stores and expand, relocate or build 100-110 stores, Kroger spokesman Gary Rhodes said.

        Typically, there is a lot of additional business potential in areas of high population growth. At Kroger's Beckett Towne Center store in West Chester Township, population growth has been an integral driving force behind that store's success.

Growing communities

        “This is a prominent growth area in the division,” Mr. Chesko said. Butler County's West Chester and Liberty townships are among the fastest growing communities in the Tristate and also home to Greater Cincinnati's second-largest school district. West Chester Township had 39,703 residents in 1990. Its population now is estimated at more than 56,000.

        The Beckett Ridge Kroger store was opened 1991 and is adding 15,000 square feet of space to the existing 56,000-square-foot store. The space became available when a gift shop closed and pizza shop relocated. Construction started in April and is slated for completion by late November, weather permitting.

        The additional space will allow for updating all grocery and nongrocery lines, as well as the addition of a drive-through pharmacy. The expansion will cost about $5 million, Mr. Chesko said.

Adding fuel centers

        Kroger's Cincinnati-Dayton Division has 101 stores. Fuel centers, which some supermarkets in Texas and the Midwest began opening in the 1980s, were rolled out in Kroger stores in late 1998. The Cincinnati-Dayton Division now has 13 fuel centers, and several more are planned for other division stores, Mr. Chesko said. Nationally, more than 240 Kroger stores have fuel centers.

        Although Kroger wasn't a market leader in this area, it is among several of the nation's larger supermarket chains to join the competitive frenzy by adding pumps and selling fuel at close to cost to boost business, according to Supermarket News, an industry publication.

Other projects

        In addition to the Beckett Ridge Kroger store expansion, five other Cincinnati-Dayton Division Kroger projects planned for 2002:

        • Fairfield: the Pleasant Avenue Kroger store (56,000 square feet) is being relocated across the intersection to Wessel Drive. The new store will be 78,000 square feet.

        • North College Hill: At Hamilton Avenue and Ronald Reagan Cross County Highway, a 70,000 square-foot Kroger store will replace two 25,000 square-foot Kroger stores nearby.

        • Vandalia and Wilmington: Two new 70,000-square-foot Kroger stores will replace two smaller Kroger stores.

        • Springfield: A 62,000 square-foot Kroger store on the east side of town will replace a smaller store.

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