Taking Stock

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Acme Seeks To Regain Traction With Renewed Focus On Driving Sales, Upgrading Supermarkets

Recent meetings between Acme Markets and its vendors have produced hardly any spin and lots of insight on the direction of the large Mid-Atlantic retailer, which has added more supermarkets to its base than any other operator in the region since late 2015.

Such was the case again late last month when the Malvern, PA-based merchant addressed more than 250 vendor representatives at its Pennsville, NJ store to discuss the current state of Acme and how the large Albertsons unit plans on accelerating sales for the remainder of 2017.

While speakers Dan Croce, Acme’s president; Jim Perkins, executive VP -Albertsons; Kim Gray, VP-marketing and merchandising; and Sherry Caldwell, director of marketing, all exuded optimism about Acme’s growth initiatives and opportunities, there was also a consistent tone of candor in noting the internal challenges that stemmed from rapidly adding 71 former A&P stores into the fold 18 months ago, along with the current fiercely competitive overall market conditions.

Croce greeted the crowd by reviewing Acme’s new geographic footprint, which now includes 178 stores including 83 in New Jersey, 53 in Pennsylvania, 16 in Delaware, 16 in New York (all former A&P units), six in Maryland, and four in Connecticut (all former A&P stores, too). With new stores to open in Philadelphia (one on Front & Snyder and another one yet undisclosed) later this year and 23 remodelings also scheduled, improving store operations is a major priority for the chain. Additionally, Croce told the crowd that 92 center store resets – a division record – are targeted for this year and another key focus for the retailer will be delivering higher sales at Acme’s 22 “Jersey Shore” stores this summer. Acme is the dominant grocer in the four-county coastal region and, according to the youthful division president, sales have grown annually for the past decade.

Other areas which have helped Acme build revenue over the past year have been the addition of beer and wine departments (including its “Frosted Mug” pub) and the expansion of its Starbucks coffee departments.

Speaking next was Jim Perkins, former president of Acme (from 2013-2015). The extremely popular Tennessean, who is back at Acme on a temporary basis, revisited a familiar theme when he reviewed his company’s top priority: “Sales, sales and sales,” adding that building sales revolves around developing passionate associates and offering the customer an improved overall shopping experience.

In the past month, Acme has lowered many everyday retails and is reviewing its product mix with plans to add new items while more aggressively deleting slow movers. About 30 stores will be treated as “premium” units and receive a more specialized perishables and specialty-driven focus.

With Acme’s aggressive remodeling program set for 2017, Perkins said that only 10 stores remain “untouched” over the past three years. He asked the vendors for their input as well, giving out his personal cell phone number and telling them to contact him directly if they feel there are barriers hindering increased sales.

“We’re listening – come talk to us. Sometimes if you want to move more cases you have to knock down barriers. I am serious about moving our business forward,” the 34-year industry veteran stated.

Perkins also affirmed that Acme needs to “go big” with its displays while also merchandising its natural/organics/specialty items and own brands more effectively. “We will be spending more cap-ex at Acme than any other Albertsons division in 2017. We are determined to drive the top line and have a lot of plans designed to grow sales. We need your frank and honest input,” he said to the vendors in the audience.

Sherry Caldwell, another Albertsons veteran who joined the Acme team in 2013, reviewed the division’s marketing plans, including its new gas rewards partnership with Sunoco (362 participating stations). “We believe we have the best fuel program in the market,” she declared, noting that customers who utilize the program are likely to spend twice as much as non-gas rewards shoppers. Caldwell also provided the vendors with an overview of Acme’s sports marketing affiliations, its growing presence on social media and digital marketing (“My Mixx”), revealing that 25 percent more trips are made by digital coupon shoppers and that digital coupon shoppers spend 40 percent more than the average shopper on an annual basis.

Kim Gray, another Albertsons veteran of more than 30 years, closed out the leadership presentations at the two-and a-half hour event. He, too, focused on moving more cases utilizing Acme’s new formula of lower prices, increased resets, more “bonus buys” and a priority on “winning” the weekly ad. He also said that emphasis would be placed on growth and “on trend” categories such as natural/organic, hot foods and floral while disclosing that Acme will add more labor in 2017 and continue to promote “local” more aggressively.

I think the vendors know that the past 18 months have been challenging for Acme, which like all other retailers has faced overstoring, channel blurring and cautious consumer spending along with perhaps its biggest hurdle of converting more than 70 A&P stores to the Acme banner with more than 30 percent of the acquired stores in new or relatively new marketing areas. Acme chose to convert all those stores within a 10-week period which meant that only limited physical plant improvements were made.

Many of those hard lessons have been learned and now the company feels it is poised to resume the growth levels it experienced in 2013, 2014 and most of 2015. Because Croce, Perkins and their team inspire a lot of confidence and aren’t afraid to be candid and truthful, vendors are rooting for Acme, too.