Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Publix and North Carolina

If you're me, this is VERY EXCITING NEWS. According to the Triangle Business Journal, Publix - my favorite grocery store ever - is planning to expand into the Raleigh area. YES!

Honestly, I thought this would never happen. I know a lot about Publix, having worked there in the summer of 2002 (part of employee orientation is learning the history of the chain), and I have friends who work there today. Yes, they are very successful, especially in Florida, but they have always been very methodical and careful about expansion. They're the opposite of, say, Food Lion, who opened a whole bunch of stores in Florida all at once, and ultimately ended up closing every last one of them. Publix currently has stores in five states (Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee), but they've been very careful about it. It took them 61 years to build their first store outside of Florida.

One advantage Publix has in Florida is that they have virtually no competition among general grocery store chains. Now that Food Lion has moved out, in Jacksonville you have Publix, Winn-Dixie, and...what, exactly? Walmart and Target, I guess? Whereas here in Raleigh, you have four main chains (not counting Walmart/Target), all of which do reasonably well: Food Lion, Harris Teeter, Kroger, and Lowe's Foods. Harris Teeter is actually the main reason I didn't think Publix would ever move here. They're both considered "upscale" and have the same target demographic. Harris Teeter tried expanding into Jacksonville, but failed, mostly because of the strong foothold Publix has in Florida (although Harris Teeter does still have one store open in Florida, in Fernandina Beach). But in Raleigh, it's Harris Teeter that has the strong foothold. Can Publix break into that? They must think they can, because they don't take expansion lightly.

I guess what I'm saying is, don't expect Publix to open ten stores in Raleigh all at once. According to the TBJ story, they're currently planning on a north Raleigh location and a Cary location. I don't know if that'll be the extent of it, but given their target market, I don't expect them to open a store in Durham for a while. And, this is all still very preliminary; we're still well over a year away from being able to shop at a Publix in Raleigh. I was totally unaware of this until now, but plans are already in the works to open a Publix in Charlotte, which would be North Carolina's first. And not even that one will be open before 2014.

So, let's not get too excited, yet. Long way to go. But it's not too soon to be asking myself this question. It's currently an 8 minute drive to my neighborhood Kroger, where I do the vast majority of my grocery shopping. How far would I willing to drive to shop at Publix instead of Kroger? 15 minutes? 20? 30? (Definitely 15 or 20; beyond that, I'd probably keep doing my regular shopping at Kroger and just go to Publix once or twice a month.)

And, am I hyping Publix so much that I'll actually be disappointed once I can compare them side-by-side with the stores I've been shopping at for the last six years? I haven't done any regular grocery shopping at Publix since I lived in Florida, and that was over eight years ago. What if I find that the local Publix is actually just as expensive as the local Harris Teeter (possible), has inferior selection to my neighborhood Kroger (unlikely, but who knows), and actually has longer checkout lines and worse baggers than Kroger (VERY unlikely, but then again, they did hire a 20-year-old version of me once upon a time)? I'll admit, that would be kind of crushing. Yes, I'm convinced that Publix is the best, but I'm kind of biased. Being a Florida native, I want Publix to be the best.

Speaking of grocery stores that I have an unhealthy obsession with, Wegmans - my second favorite grocery store ever - is planning to open a store in Charlottesville, VA, which would then become the southernmost Wegmans in existence. (Currently, the southernmost Wegmans is in Fredericksburg.) Surely, now that Publix is expanding into North Carolina, that eliminates any possibility of Wegmans expanding into North Carolina from the other direction, no? I mean, Publix and Wegmans in the same place? Everyone else may as well just give up at that point.

1 comment:

Jamie said...

Chris,
I also love Publix and am very excited they are moving into the market. I will drive 30 minutes to shop there, though probably just on occasion. I also used to live in FL and shopped their regularly. I love their deli and bakery the most!

I have a feeling it will be close in price/feel to HT. I've always considered HT to be somewhat like Publix. It will be interesting to see if they can make it here.