Short Pump grocers ready to fight fresh competition

traderjoesConsider yourself warned, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Two of Short Pump’s original higher end grocers are ready to fight to retain their upscale shoppers.

Tom Leonard, who owns a farmer’s market on Brookriver Drive, behind Best Buy, may not have prime Broad Street frontage, but it doesn’t seem to affect his business. Just across the street from the recently-opened Whole Foods Market, Tom Leonard’s Farmer’s Market is holding steady with strong sales, Leonard said.

“I paid a third of what Broad Street [frontage] costs; therefore, my prices remain lower,” Leonard said. The store is his only one in the Richmond area, His father, Stew Leonard, operates four stores in the northeast, each roughly the size of an average Costco warehouse.

Tom Leonard’s store may be small in comparison, but that will soon change. The store is going to expand by 75%. Leonard owns seven acres between Brookriver Drive and Interstate 64, all the way to the S&K Menswear building. The larger store will feature more prepared foods, meats, and cheeses, just to name a few offerings.

“The one thing these bigger stores don’t have is me,” Leonard said “We often say, ‘you have to own the farm to get it any fresher.’”

“The economy is weak. People want bargains. [Whole Foods’ parking lot] will probably be filled with Hummers. They’re a great operator, but expensive.”

Leonard doesn’t currently have any future plans for additional locations, choosing to focus on his sole operation. “My philosophy is to put your eggs in one basket, then watch that basket,” Leonard said about his business principles.
Ukrop’s, meanwhile, is also trying to protect its marketshare, which has declined in the last year.

“The key thing, whether you’re playing football or selling groceries, is that you have to understand your competition, but you can’t be the competition,” said Kevin Hade, Ukrop’s vice president of sales and operations. “We are going to continue to try and exceed our customer’s expectations. We’ve been pretty successful at that for 70+ years.”

Ukrop’s has responded to changing customer trends for decades. “Cafés [in Ukrop’s stores] started in the 1980s as we recognized that consumers would be busier in the future and wouldn’t have time to prepare meals,” Hade said “We’ve always made strategic investments to make sure customers have exactly what they need.”

“When someone’s eating out, they’re not cooking. But, one thing we offer with our cafés is a nice, affordable evening.”
The company’s Short Pump location is undergoing a facelift to bring it up to date with other stores in the area. Construction crews are updating the kitchen, deli, and café areas. “The cheese section will also be larger, we’ll have a new salad bar, and there will be more emphasis on organic food and produce. We’ve got some really cool things in store, like a Starbucks in the front of the store, family restrooms, and more. Every piece of that store will have been touched [by the time construction is complete]. It’s going to be our best store yet.” The company also has plans to open a store on Nuckols Road, near Twin Hickory, around October of 2009.

“We’re not like a Food Lion or Kroger. We evolve and each store takes on its own personality. We build one store a year, and we’re constantly working on our [business] model,” Hade said.

Trevor Dickerson is the editor at Downtown Short

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