The Florida-based Publix supermarket chain opens a new store in western Cary on Wednesday – a game changer in the already crowded supermarket landscape in the Triangle.
The 49,000-square-foot store is the first in the region for the chain, which is in the midst of an aggressive expansion into North Carolina with multiple stores already open in Charlotte and two more in the planning stages in Winston-Salem and Asheville.
“We intend to grow throughout the Triangle and are looking at sites,” Publix spokeswoman Kim Reynolds said Tuesday. Reynolds would not comment on a possible Raleigh location on Falls of Neuse Road, which has been opposed by neighbors during city planning meetings.
As the newcomer in town, Publix will siphon business from each of its Triangle competitors as curious customers give Publix a try. But its biggest rival will likely turn out to be the chain most like itself – Harris Teeter, which also opens a new store in Cary on Wednesday.
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Both retailers are known in the supermarket industry for quality customer service and prices on the higher end of the spectrum.
Coincidence or not, Wednesday’s dual openings set the stage for a fight for Triangle shoppers’ loyalty and grocery dollars.
“The real winner will be the Cary grocery consumer,” Chuck Roskovich, vice president of the Publix Charlotte division, said during a Tuesday sneak preview of the Publix store for media and community leaders.
“Harris Teeter is no stranger to competition,” Harris Teeter spokeswoman Danna Jones said. “Competition is a constant in this business ... and it comes back to benefit the consumer,” she said.
Matthews-based Harris Teeter, which ranks third in market share in the Raleigh area, was acquired this year by supermarket giant Kroger, with analysts attributing the sale to competitive pressures. The combined Kroger and Harris Teeter market share makes the company competitive with Wal-Mart, which is No. 1 in market share in the Raleigh area.
The new Publix is the anchor store in the Bradford shopping center at Davis Drive and High House Road, a short drive from at least five other grocery stores, including a Harris Teeter and a newly remodeled Lowes Foods, which is a distant fifth in market share. Among the more unusual features of the new Publix store: a catering center for planning parties and weddings and a center where cooking demonstrations will take place daily.
Across town in central Cary, the new 53,000-square-foot Harris Teeter is the main tenant in the Village Square shopping center where the Galaxy theater once stood. The store, which includes a drive-thru pharmacy and a Starbucks, replaces a much smaller store in the parking lot of the nearby Cary Towne Center mall.
Would-be Publix shoppers in North Carolina shouldn’t expect to reap the identical savings that Publix shoppers in other parts of the country enjoy. As the employee-owned chain has expanded northward, it is strategically picking and choosing what promotions to offer in each region.
While the promotional fine-tuning may make sense from a business standpoint, it’s likely to yield some disappointed shoppers among the ranks of the Triangle’s many transplants.
Two of the most popular promotions offered in other states – double coupons and the weekly penny mystery deal – will not be offered in the Triangle, which is part of the Charlotte region of the Publix chain, spokeswoman Reynolds said.
Publix made that decision despite the fact that rivals Harris Teeter and Lowes Foods both double coupons up to 99 cents.
“We’ve decided to put our resources toward other savings programs that benefit the majority of our customers, such as our buy one, get one free deals,” Reynolds said.
Another distinguishing feature of Publix is its lack of a customer loyalty program, a point the company likes to emphasize. “No cards, no forms and definitely no hassle,” Roskovich said Tuesday.
Publix will also introduce Triangle households to new promotions and a whole slew of new policies on such things as coupons, rain checks and store-brand product guarantees.
Many of the perks at Publix – such as a free “smash cake” for baby’s first birthday, coupons for pet lovers, multiple store coupon booklets and a generous rain check policy that allows shoppers to use expired coupons – are certain to be popular with Triangle households and cause rival supermarkets to re-examine their promotions.