Publix's North Carolina expansion marks first time in more than 10 years chain has entered a new state, first time it has established a new division since entering Georgia in 1991
September 30, 2013
– Publix is carving out a big footprint in the Tar Heel State.
In just a year since the company announced its North Carolina expansion, Lakeland-based Publix Super Markets Inc. has shown an atypical intensity with its growth plans for the state -- although the first store won't open until early 2014.
The chain has ramped up new store announcements for the Charlotte area, which has largely been the focus of its push into North Carolina. Publix also is bulking up its presence by acquiring four North Carolina locations from the BI-LO chain.
Meanwhile, the grocer has shown a desire to expand well beyond the Charlotte area by branching out to Asheville, Cary and Winston-Salem.
"We're looking at the entire state of North Carolina, where traditionally we might have looked at certain pockets or areas when we approach a new state," said Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous. "For us, North Carolina has been a long-anticipated state by both associates and customers. We're excited to be entering a new market."
Altogether, Publix currently has plans for 11 stores in North Carolina, with the first opening in Ballantyne (near Charlotte) early next year. It marks the first time in more than a decade that Publix has entered a new state, following its 2002 expansion into Tennessee.
The North Carolina move also is notable in that Publix is establishing a new division office in Charlotte -- which will oversee both the North Carolina locations and most South Carolina stores -- that will open Jan. 1. It will be the first new division for Publix since it opened an office in Atlanta after expanding to Georgia in 1991.
Jeff Edge, an executive with the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, said Publix's impending debut should be well received in the area, which is home to many Florida transplants.
"There are a lot of people here in our community who have prior customer experiences with Publix, and they think highly of them and are excited that Publix is coming to the market," said Edge, the Chamber's senior vice president of economic development. "Publix coming in certainly adds to the variety the consumer will have, and I think the quality they offer will ratchet up" competition among local supermarkets.
Brous declined to discuss the specifics of Publix's strategy for North Carolina, but in a recent press release CEO Ed Crenshaw said the chain "has a strong financial foundation that allows us to aggressively grow throughout existing markets and our new Charlotte Division." His remarks came in a Sept. 13 announcement that Publix is purchasing four BI-LO stores in North Carolina and three locations in South Carolina. Publix rarely grows through store acquisitions, and has not made such a purchase since it spent $500 million for 49 Albertsons locations in Florida in 2008.
Publix could be feeling a sense of urgency amid recent developments in the North Carolina supermarket scene, the most notable being Kroger Co.'s plans to acquire Matthews, N.C.-based Harris Teeter in a pending $2.5 billion deal. Cincinnati-based Kroger is the second largest retailer in the nation behind Wal-Mart, and Harris Teeter is the market share leader in the Charlotte region, according to 2012 figures from Chain Store Guide. Kroger intends to operate Harris Teeter as a subsidiary.
"That's going to increase the competitiveness of Harris Teeter," said Roger Beahm, a marketing professor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. "What Publix has had to do is step back and reassess the environment (in North Carolina) ... I think they've come to the conclusion to go ahead and get more aggressive and (expand) on a more accelerated timetable than what they originally planned."
Publix is keeping mum on details about future store announcements, but Brouse says "there will be more aggressive growth. That's what we're promising."