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BOULDER, Colo. - Wild Oats Markets, Inc., the nation's No. 2 natural and organic supermarket chain, will be moving into the Cincinnati market with a new store opening in the Deerfield Town Center July 21.
The opening is part of the company's ambition to expand existing markets over the next three years. "We have very aggressive growth plans," Wild Oats spokeswoman Sonja Tuitele told Progressive Grocer. "This year we are opening about 12 stores; next year we will open 20 stores; and in 2006 and beyond we will be opening about 40 stores a year."
In the near future Wild Oats plans to do the bulk of its expansion in existing markets, to provide customers with greater convenience as well as to leverage distribution and the supply chain, and gain economies of scale in advertising. "For example, with only one store in Cincinnati, we are already distributing to that store, our regional folks were already having to travel out there to the store, and we were already advertising to that market," says Tuitele. "If we have three or four stores in the area, we are able to leverage that spend across all of them."
The Cincinnati store will be 28,000 square feet, which will be the size of most of their new prototype stores, said Tuitele, as it offers customers what they're looking for in terms of natural and organic products, in a friendly, community-market-style store.
One new feature will be a Holistic Health Center, a store-within-a-store format where vitamins, supplements, and body care products are to be sold. The concept was first tested in Wild Oats' flagship store in May and, counting the new location, will be in three stores.
"In our older stores these products were in the center of the store, because our founders came out of that industry," said Tuitele. "Through our research we found that it was a bit intimidating for our customers. In the new concept the shelving is lower, so it fosters better customer service; it is more inviting, kind of like a little boutique which offers the natural personal care items, and body care and vitamins and supplements. There are interactive screens where you can look up information; all the employees have been trained fairly extensively on product knowledge, so they are really armed to serve our customers better."
For future stores Wild Oats plans to seek out areas where the demographics consist of college-educated consumers; following this, level of income is the next big factor in choosing its locations, though, as Tuitele pointed out, this is becoming increasingly less important.
"Typically what follows education is income, and those are people who can afford to shop natural and organic foods," she said. "But here the price differential is coming down when you shop in-season or when you shop the bulk department; you are finding prices that are very competitive to what you find in a conventional store. Plus our high-touch customer service and high level of employee training help to keep customers coming back. It is an experience they don't find elsewhere.
"It definitely helps us differentiate ourselves from other stores," Tuitele added. "Especially if the conventional stores are worried about Wal-Mart and worried about lowering their prices, it gives us a positioning in the marketplace that is very unique."
-- Joseph Tarnowski