Monday, July 23, 2012

Kroger v. Harris Teeter

There's a chance much of this will overlap stuff I've already written, but, oh well.

By my count, there are nine area grocery stores for us to choose from:
- Harris Teeter and Food Lion. No matter where you live in the Triangle, you probably live fairly close to at least one of these.
- Kroger and Lowes Foods. Not as common as the first two, but still fairly widespread in the Triangle.
- Walmart and Target, provided they happen to have a grocery section, which is becoming more commonplace these days.
- Aldi, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods, which are more specialty-type stores. (I think. I've only ever been to one of the three.)

Each of the eight has found a niche of some kind:
- If you care about price, and nothing more, and don't mind waiting in line for 10 minutes or parking 5 miles from the front door of the store, you go to Walmart.
- If you care about price but don't want to wait in line for 10 minutes, you go to Food Lion. (I've never really been a fan of Food Lion.)
- If you have to go to Target to get some other things anyway, then you may as well do at least some of your grocery shopping while you're there. (I've found Target's meat and produce to be substandard and/or expensive, but they're good for most other things, and their store brands are getting better.)
- If you like specialty and/or foreign food, then you go to Trader Joe's.
- If you like specialty and/or organic food and don't care about price - like, at all - then you go to Whole Foods.
- If you (To Be Determined), then you go to Aldi. (I don't know what the deal with Aldi is, but they seem to be thriving. I've never been to one. Future blog post!)
- If you don't really care either way, and Lowes Foods happens to be the closest grocery store to your home, then you go to Lowes Foods.
- Or...if you're me, and there's a Kroger within 10 minutes of your house, you go to Kroger, above all else.

I've always thought that our Krogers have the best combination of everything - price, selection, service. Krogers around here are also often on the newer side (unlike in the Midwest, where Kroger is based and has been around for a long time; Krogers up that way aren't always as well kept).

Yet, when Harris Teeter and Kroger are located near each other, the Harris Teeter often wins out. For example, the Wakefield Commons location of Kroger (near the curling club in Wake Forest) closed last year due to low sales. There also happens to be a Harris Teeter across the street, which I can only assume does a pretty good business.

But is the tide turning in Kroger's favor? I say this because our neighborhood Kroger (intersection of Highway 54 and Fayetteville in Durham) also happens to be located across the street from Harris Teeter. Yet, last week when I went to both stores in succession, I noticed that the Kroger was at least twice as busy as the Harris Teeter.

In general, the Harris Teeter versus Kroger comparison goes like this. Overall, Harris Teeter is more expensive than Kroger. But Harris Teeters are also generally nicer than Kroger and have better service, and that's why they generally do good business, especially in nice parts of town (e.g. Cary and north Raleigh). But south Durham is more middle class, and thus, price is going to be more of a sticking point in this part of town. Advantage: Kroger.

And, as with just about any chain grocery store, Your Mileage May Vary. The Harris Teeter in question is on the older and smaller side. Meanwhile, the Kroger was recently renovated, is quite large (much larger than the Harris Teeter), and is in excellent condition. And, the employees at this particular Kroger are nicer. I've found the cashiers at this Harris Teeter to be kind of inconsiderate. (That would never happen at Publix.) And...there's also a newer and much nicer Harris Teeter just down the road (at Highway 54 and Hope Valley), and if you're going to go to Harris Teeter, you're better off going to that other one instead. Suffice to say, the deck is stacked against this Harris Teeter location.

In this particular competition, localized to the intersection of Highway 54 and Fayetteville, Kroger is king. I'm actually kind of surprised that they kept this Harris Teeter open when the other one opened. It looks bad for business to flat out close a store, but if you're simply "relocating" a store (i.e. closing one and opening a new one nearby), that doesn't look bad in the least. But it's too late for that. So is this Harris Teeter still profitable? Might they close it (or "relocate" it somewhere else completely) some day?

I actually hope they keep this location open, because across-the-street competition is good, and helps keep Kroger honest. They may not have put as much effort into making this Kroger what it is if not for the Harris Teeter across the street.

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