Weis Success Formula Driven By Steady, Sustainable Growth
Acknowledging the challenges of competing in a fierce landscape, executives of Weis Markets said they will continue the retailer’s path toward steady, sustainable growth that has proven successful over the past five years.
Five members of the Sunbury, PA-based regional chain leadership team – chairman and CEO Jonathan Weis; COO Kurt Schertle; senior VP-merchandising & marketing Richard Gunn; VP-center store merchandising Donna Banks-Ficcio; and VP-advertising & marketing Ron Bonacci – addressed approximately 700 vendors (a record) at Weis’ 10th annual strategic alignment summit held on September 18 at the BWI Marriott in Baltimore.
Kicking off the meeting was Weis who noted: “Weis Markets continues to make progress in a marketplace that is rapidly changing and at a time when customers are experimenting with the way they shop.” The 50-year old chief executive said those changes have resulted in growth and strategy shifts by other retailers, Weis’ approach has always been to invest for the long-term.
“Our goal is to operate efficiently while continually improving the in-store experience for our customers. At our core,” he added, “we are a locally focused operator that offers a strong combination of value, quality and service.”
Weis told the overflow crowd that in 2018, the company is investing more than $100 million on nearly 40 projects, including two new stores (Nottingham, MD in April and Randolph, NJ last month).
Schertle then provided the vendors with an update of the events of the past year and an overview of Weis’ upcoming plans.
“As I’ve said at every meeting – we may not be your biggest customer, but we want to be the one who delivers the best sales growth,” the nine-year Weis veteran said.
Weis’ 2017 sales were $3.5 billion. The retailer currently operates 204 stores in seven Mid-Atlantic states. For the first six months of this year, revenue was $1.7 billion, its year-to date (YTD) comp store sales have increased 1 percent and its YTD profit has increased a healthy 16.4 percent.
In a more detailed analysis, Schertle noted that Weis’ core legacy stores continue to perform well, the former Mars and Nell’s stores (part of a 44-unit acquisition in late 2016) are “delivering solid sales increases” and the former Food Lion units (also part of that acquisition) are beginning to get their “sea legs” in a process that continues to be digestive.
That 2016 acquisition, where other retailers’ store closures or divestments helped Weis add approximately 25 percent to its store base represents a strategy the company will look to pursue in the near future. And even if it doesn’t purchase other properties, Schertle said Weis will still look to fill the holes left by store closings or sales to others.
He pointed to the shifting food retail landscape in Lancaster, PA, Chambersburg, PA and Shippensburg, PA (where Supervalu subsidiary Shop ‘n Save has recently closed stores) as “potentially a million dollars a week” in increased sales opportunities.
Displaying a slide indicating recent comparable store sales of its primary competitors, only Walmart (at positive 4.5 percent) topped Weis in YTD performance. Schertle also emphasized the importance of Weis’ pharmacy and health and wellness initiatives, its steady growth with beer and wine cafes (62 currently in PA) and its growing fuel program. He added that Weis is investing in ecommerce, particularly its online ordering with curbside pickup (87 stores) and delivery programs, which will add mobile ordering to its offering later this year.
“While we will always be a brick and mortar operator, we recognize there is a growing segment of our customer base looking for the convenience of online ordering and home delivery. This is also a high spending segment,” Schertle stated.
In summary, the popular 46-year old executive touted Weis’ strong balance sheet, its stable ownership, its commitment and resources to grow, its steady sales growth and its responsive, “close to the market management” as key advantages that Weis Markets can claim going forward.
Richard Gunn, who joined Weis Markets in 2015 (after a long career at K-VA-T), focused primarily on the chain’s upcoming regionalization of its ad circular which will customize its weekly offerings in six operating areas where Weis’ stores are most heavily clustered – Delaware Valley; Baltimore, MD; Fredericksburg, VA; Binghamton, NY; New Jersey/Northeast PA; and Western PA/State College.
Gunn also broke down the individual departments within center store and fresh, noting that strong producers within center store (which comprises about two-thirds of Weis’ sales excluding fuel and pharmacy) included frozen, beer and wine and HBC/GM. Among Weis’ best sales gainer in “fresh” were bakery, deli and seafood.
Donna Banks-Ficcio, who joined Weis last year after stints at A&P and Supervalu, addressed Weis’ center store priorities which included improved enabling of executional excellence; a focus on the company’s adult beverage category; the unveiling of a new and improved vendor portal (with software firm Aptaris); more efficient space planning and execution; a priority to “right size” Weis’ SKU assortment; and a targeting regional relevance and needs.
The final presenter at the concise yet detailed two-and-a-half hour session was VP-marketing and advertising Ron Bonacci, who also came aboard in 2017 after a long industry career that included pit stops at United Supermarkets and K-VA-T and Kroger. Bonacci highlighted “connection” opportunities with Weis’ CPG suppliers and brokers for a multitude of new and improved marketing programs. Those included participation in the retailer’s regional ad circular program; curbside and grocery delivery; Weis’ new loyalty server; its new club program; new data insights; branding and in-store marketing opportunities; and Weis’ expanding sports marketing partnerships.
As he did last year, Gunn, who is Weis’ chief merchant, urged vendors to consider his “big ask”: participate in the retailer’s new localized ad circular program; support its new vendor portal and work closely with Weis’ category managers to enhance its joint business plan.
After the management team completed its formal presentation, it announced Weis’ vendor achievement award winners for 2018. Sales awards went to: Huntsinger Farms, Worldwide Seafood, George’s, Inc., Village Candle, Clemens Food Group, Kraft Heinz, B&G Sales, Post, Hanover Foods, The Emerson Group and Table Talk Pie Co.
Service awards were handed out to: SAS Retail Services, Hallmark, Blackhawk Network and E&J Gallo Winery.