Jack of all trades, master of none? No, say Leedmark officials, master of them all.
Leedmark, a sprawling two-story building that opens today near Routes 10 and 710 in Glen Burnie, is like 18 different stores in one. It sells office equipment, Nintendo games, VCRs, clothes, groceries and home improvement products, picnic tables and a whole lot more.
The $10 million store situated on 25 acres also has a collection of commissaries providing services such as electronic equipment repairs, picture framing and movie rentals.
Walking through the electronic and clothing departments, a shopper catches the smell of fresh-baked bread from the bakery department.
"We have Sonys and we have baloney," jokes Thomas Lenkevich, Leedmark's local president.
Leedmark's French parent company, E. Leclerc, also has a concept that has met with mixed results in the United States when tried by other retailers. The company says that if its version is successful, it will open 20 such stores in the mid-Atlantic region.
E. Leclerc is one of the big three "hypermarket" retailers in Europe. The stores specialize in "one-stop shopping," where a customer can conceivably get all his or her basic shopping done in one place and pay for it at one cash register.
Leedmark's low pricing strategy is likely to heat up the price wars a little more in an area that is already full of competitors and dealing with a slow economy.
The trend toward integrating food and grocery products with general merchandise has become more pronounced as stores try to increase traffic and become a primary destination for consumers.
However, today's hurried consumer may find it disconcerting to walk through such a large shopping warehouse and do all kinds of buying in one trip. The Leedmark store in Glen Burnie, the company's first in the United States, is roughly 300,000 square feet -- the size of six football fields, not including the end zones.
"I don't immediately think of shopping for food and shopping for a basketball hoop for my son all in one trip," said Charles Cerankosky, a Kemper Securities retail analyst. "Shoppers may not see any synergy in shopping for food and other items all at one time in one place."
Mr. Lenkevich said Leedmark examined the pitfalls of other hypermarket operators in places such as Philadelphia and New Jersey to try to avoid making mistakes that could hurt its appeal with customers.
For instance, Leedmark puts large signs above all its departments and aisles so that a customer can quickly tell where things are. That's a given in U.S. stores, but Mr. Lankevich said that it is not a common practice abroad, and many European hypermarket operators overlooked it when they tried the U.S. market.
Leedmark is also big on service.
There are 32 blue phones spread throughout the store to offer help locating items, a computerized foot-sizer for buying shoes, a playroom for the kids, and monitors at each of the 48 checkout lanes showing CNN news, public service announcements and Leedmark commercials.
Despite its specialized features, Leedmark is still in an area that will give it steep competition. It's a region dominated by Giant, Safeway and, to a lesser degree, Price Club. And Leedmark's large selection of home improvement products puts it in competition with Hechinger as well.
"When you have a number of strong food retailers and general merchandising retailers in an area, it can be tough for a hypermarket," Mr. Cerankosky of Kemper said. "Just because you have everything under one roof doesn't mean you will fare well."
But Leedmark officials and 450 workers here beg to differ. "This is going to be great. This is an incredible place," said Ron Pate, a pastry chef.