The Name Game

Ahold purchased Richmond’s hometown Ukrop’s Super Markets chain last week and said it is placing it under the umbrella of its Giant Carlisle chain, based in Carlisle, Pa. Ahold has promised to uphold Ukrop’s service and traditions, but it will still be tinkering with operations at its new stores.

 

In addition to opening on Sunday and selling alcohol, the most noticeable change Ahold has in store is to change the name on the store, probably to Martin’s, a banner that Giant uses for some of its stores that are close to the territory of its sister chain, Giant Food of Landover, Md.

 

Personally, I predict changing the Ukrop’s name will be a big mistake. Until this year, when it was surpassed by Food Lion, Ukrop’s held the market share in the Richmond area. Consumers loved that the chain was family-owned, operated clean stores, offered outstanding service, like carrying bags out to the car, and sponsored the annual Christmas Parade down Richmond’s Broad Street.

 

“I personally enjoy the cleanliness, food quality and (most of the time) courtesy of employees,” customer Beth Angell told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “But I most admire them for their huge contributions to the community — sponsorship of local events like Monument Ave. 10K, Christmas Parade and probably a hundred other things. Their civic-minded approach to business set a great example that not enough others choose to follow.”

 

“I love the people, the service, and the history of a store that I have gone to my entire 50 years of life… We built our home in Fredericksburg, partially, because there was a Ukrop’s here. I am devastated,” shopper Kathy Branch-Jones told the newspaper.

 

That sounds a lot like the relationship that Chicago had with its beloved Marshall Field’s. When Macy’s acquired the chain as part of its takeover of May Company, the first thing it did was to change the name to Macy’s — part of a plan to develop a national chain of department stores while reducing costs on things like back office operations, advertising and shopping bags while being able to buy national airtime on shows like Desperate Housewives. That did not sit well with Chicagoans. Sales plunged dramatically and have still not recovered. To this day, “Fans of Marshall Field’s” hold protest rallies outside of the State Street flagship urging Macy’s to restore Marshall Field’s name, upscale product selection and legendary service.

 

Supermarket banners have been changed successfully in the past. Schnuck Markets changed the banner of Seesels stores in Memphis to Schnucks when it acquired them a few years ago. “We changed the name because we were the fourth owner of that business,” chairman and CEO Scott Schnuck told me. “You had the Seesel family, then Bruno’s came in and owned those stores for two years and kept the Seesels name, then Albertsons bought the stores, kept the name and owned them for six or eight years before we bought them. By that time the Seesels name was very diluted and tarnished.”

 

Interestingly enough, Schnucks kept the Logli name on three stores it acquired in Rockford, Ill. because of that family-owned operation’s sterling reputation. “We built a fourth store in that market and then opened a store in Janesville, Wis. We used the Logli name because it was closer to the Rockford market and Schnucks wasn’t a known name there,” Scott Schnuck said.

 

Ahold would be wise to take a close look at Macy’s, Seesels and Logli before finalizing any plans of dropping the Ukrop’s name.

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