Wegmans Food Markets has set its sights on the Brooklyn Navy Yard. This fall, the chain aspires to open its first big-city location, in the long-ignored tract of the former military base called Admiral’s Row. As reported by Bloomberg Business News, Wegmans has plans to open a 74,000-square-foot facility, with broad windows looking into the produce aisles. Known as the nation’s top supermarket chain, it expects about 10,000 visitors daily at the Brooklyn Navy Yard market. It will be hiring 500 employees, for which it has already received 4,000 applications.
The name of this privately held, family-run chain may not ring a bell to many New Yorkers. Based in Rochester, the chain has only 98 stores strewn across six states in the mid-Atlantic and New England regions. Its sales of about $9.2 billion, don’t seem like much to brag about in comparison to some of the giants like Krogers or Walmart. Still, Wegmans seems to have something special, especially for its loyal shoppers, known as Wegmaniacs.
For the past three years it has been ranked as the nation’s top grocery store, as per a survey of shoppers by researcher Market Force Information. Sales per square foot at Wegmans are higher than those of any other supermarket chain, except for Whole Foods, according to Creditintell, a retail credit consulting firm. At a time, when most brick and mortar supermarkets are struggling against online delivery grocers like Amazon.com, Wegmans is doing more than just surviving. “The entire U.S. grocery sector is hurtling towards a day of reckoning,” said Neil Saunders, an analyst at GlobalData Retail. “There is simply no avoiding this pain, and ultimately the battle will be about surviving rather than thriving.” Wegmans, though, he said is “head-and-shoulders above most U.S. grocers.”
Wegman’s new facility at the Brooklyn Navy Yard will be a big test of whether Wegmans can duplicate its phenomenal small town success in New York City’s hustle and bustle market. On the one hand, there are 2.8 million people who live within 5 miles of the Navy Yard, with an average household income well above $100,000. On the other hand, Wegmans will need to adapt to a drastically different environment and plenty of experienced competitors. “There are all different types of customers there, so we will offer the best of what we have,” says Chief Executive Officer Colleen Wegman.
The grocer also has ambitious plans to open five stores in North Carolina, its seventh state, in 2019. The company hopes to succeed by giving shoppers a compelling reason to visit its stores. Wegmans “instills a corporate culture that’s almost like a cult”, says Doug Steiner, who in 2015 was handed the Admiral’s Row development contract on which the Brooklyn Navy Yard sits.
“We have no idea what’s going to happen,” says Chairman Danny Wegman. “But if you like people and you like food, that’s what our business is. It’s no more complicated than that.”
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