Metro stores to turn into Shoppers Food Warehouses

Owner seeks to boost chain's profitability

February 12, 2003|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

The owner of Metro Food Markets is expected to convert nearly all Baltimore-area Metro supermarkets into Shoppers Food Warehouse stores and phase out the Metro name.

SuperValu Inc., owner of both Metro and Shoppers, will start with two Anne Arundel County Metro stores, which will take on the new Shoppers banner and design by June. Columbia-based Manekin LLC, a SuperValu contractor, has started renovating a Metro in Severn and will begin work next week on a supermarket in Brooklyn Park, a Manekin official said yesterday.

Metro, once the Baltimore-area's second-largest food retailer, has slipped to third place behind Giant Food Inc. and Safeway Inc., in part because of poor choices for new store locations, one industry expert said yesterday.

But a move to convert Metro into the more successful and profitable Shoppers format could help boost the chain back to the No. 2 spot, said Jeff Metzger, publisher of the Columbia-based trade journal Food World.

"By tailoring the stores to look more like Shoppers and using the Shoppers banner, they will be utilizing a model that has been successful," Metzger said.

Metro operates 15 stores in Baltimore and in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties. The chain also operates Shoppers Food Warehouse stores, known for discount prices and high-quality produce and bakery departments. They are mostly in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, Southern Maryland and Northern Virginia. Shoppers also has stores in Annapolis, Westminster and Laurel.

Bill White, president of the Metro and Shoppers chains, did not return phone calls yesterday seeking comment on the company's plans. Polly Deane, a SuperValu spokeswoman, said she did not know details of the conversions.

Metzger said he believes that the company is looking for a way to revitalize the Metro chain.

"It is my belief that one of the revitalization points of light will be the conversion of the name," he said. "When all is said and done, I would think the only banner remaining in Baltimore would be Shoppers, and I would expect a few [Metro] stores to close.

Craig Wess, director of construction for real estate and construction company Manekin, said the 58,000-square-foot Metro stores in Severn and Brooklyn Park will remain open during the renovations, which will cost about $750,000 per store.

He said he believed that Metro plans to convert all 15 of its Baltimore-area stores, and that Manekin hopes to work on others.

Metro evolved from a former warehouse-style chain called Basics, and in the early 1990s became the more upscale Metro, a hybrid that billed itself as a "theater of foods" that emphasizes prepared meals, fresh produce and low prices. Featuring a unique store layout and a market-style presentation for meats, seafood and produce, it quickly grew into the area's second-largest chain. But changes in ownership brought cutbacks in service. Under previous management, the chain made a few poor choices on new store locations, Metzger said.

White became president of Metro and Shoppers in April 2000 and began integrating the two chains' operations. In March 2001, he said he hoped to remake the then-18-store Metro by shifting to an everyday-low-price strategy, selling the bulk of items at low prices all the time rather than running sales.

White told The Sun at that time, "somewhere down the road, it's possible Metro could become Shoppers. It would behoove us to have one banner."

Over the last several years, Metzger said, "there hasn't been a lot of energy surrounding the organization. The conversions are really going to help the company. Metro has been stuck in neutral for a few years and needed an energy boost. This has the potential to have a good result."

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