Plans also call for remodeling older stores, updating them with wider aisles and a greater emphasis on fresh produce, he said. A new store prototype is under development and about three-quarters completed, he said.
Baird has spent his first weeks visiting dozens of stores, but he said he needs to see more before determining the number that will be immediately upgraded.
Renovating or building replacement stores would likely take place during the next two to three years, he said. The company hopes to expand in its current market area of Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Washington, especially in underserved urban areas.
He envisions the company in a position to build 10 to 12 new stores a year and expand outside its current market area. Such growth is imperative amid intense competition, he said. And that can only intensify, especially for supermarket retailers who operate on thin profit margins of 1 percent.
In the Baltimore area, Metro Food Markets, Super Fresh Food Markets and Safeway are expanding. Harris Teeter, an upscale, North Carolina-based chain, opened its first supermarkets last year in Northern Virginia, another of Giant's strongholds. And Wal-Mart, which is chipping away at supermarket business with its array of nonperishable food, is preparing to bring its supercenter concept to the Northeast.
As with other forms of retailing, the supermarket industry has become increasingly polarized. "The highly successful operators have either elected to go the low-price route, like Food Lion, or the upscale route like Harris Teeter and U-Krops," said Kenneth Gassman, an analyst with Richmond, Va.-based Davenport & Co. "The supermarket chains in the middle, like Winn-Dixie, continue to struggle to maintain market share."
Giant will continue improving on one of its strengths -- a high level of service that has won it a loyal customer base, Baird said.
"We may not have the lowest prices in town, but we'll have the best value and service," he said.
Pub Date: 2/07/99