BJ's Wholesale wants to knock out competition ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY BUSINESS

November 19, 1992|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

The message from BJ's Wholesale Club was clear: The county's newest warehouse shopping club wants to clobber the competition.

During a mock boxing match at yesterday's opening in Pasadena, the 5-foot-8, 160-pound store manager, representing BJ's, landed a knock-out punch on his opponent, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound employee representing the Price Club, Sam's Club, Leedmark and Wal-Mart.

The fight was all in jest, but its message was applauded by dozens of workers, who cheered, waved red balloons and chanted "BJ's, BJ's."

From the minute the doors opened, workers and managers set out to convince the throng of shoppers that they could do no better than BJ's on meat, groceries, household goods, books and tires.

Items like soda -- $4.97 a case -- paper towels -- $9.48 for 12 rolls -- produce, trash bags and appliances are stocked nearly as high as the 26-foot ceilings in the 120,000-square-foot warehouse in Festival at Pasadena shopping center.

Because of a low-overhead, high-volume strategy, most departments are self-service. BJ's customers come for the savings -- merchandise marked up 8 percent to 10 percent over wholesale, as compared to markups of up to 30 percent at discount stores and up to 50 percent at department stores, according to company officials.

Whether customers will be convinced and pay $25 to join remains to be seen.

"I think this will be no different from the Price Club," said Pat Vogel of Glen Burnie. "But I'll see what it's like."

Bill and Louise Goldsmith, also of Glen Burnie, came to the opening intending to switch from the Price Club to BJ's after checking the baked goods, fresh produce and seafood.

Citing a successful, pre-opening membership drive, officials of the Natick, Mass., chain predict a strong showing for the store, the 37th in the East, the second in the state.

Company President Herb Zarkin said that he expects sales to reach $30 million to $40 million the first year and to grow to $50 million the second year. Last year, the chain tallied sales of $1.4 billion.

The Pasadena opening comes as part of a move into the Baltimore metropolitan market. BJ's opened a club in White Marsh, Baltimore County, last spring and is building clubs in Columbia and Owings Mills.

"Baltimore is a good location," Mr. Zarkin said. "The population is good. The competition is good quality and has done well. We'll bring a fresher approach, a more modern approach."

Unlike other wholesalers, BJ's will offer custom-cut meats, a bakery and computer-scanned checkouts. The store will accept food coupons, offer non-restricted memberships and tailor its merchandise to area customers, Mr. Zarkin said.

The opening marks a turnaround for Festival at Pasadena, which lost tenants after its anchor, Channel Home Center, closed in a March 1991 bankruptcy reorganization.

"BJ's is the key ingredient needed to make the center successful," said Richard Burton, an investment officer with Aetna Life Insurance Co., the center's owner since July 1991.

The center is now 85 percent leased.

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