The new Albany ShopRite opens this Thursday. If the opening of the Niskayuna location is any indication, the scene will probably be a zoo. Such is the product of the Capital Region's apparent supermarket obsession.
We were invited to check out the new Albany store today, and went for two reasons: 1) to gawk at perfectly stocked aisles and 2) to maybe find out why ShopRite has decided to build four stores in the Albany area -- and why now.
If you just want to see photos of the store, they're in large format above -- scroll all the way up.
ShopRite is betting big on the Capital Region. The Albany location will be its second store here. There's also an in-construction store in Slingerlands, and a fourth store planned for the village of Colonie.
The supermarket business is notoriously tough -- profit margins are something on the order of one percent. Chains make money by doing volume, and lots of it. So a company doesn't invest millions of dollars on a cluster of stores in a new area unless it thinks it can make significant dent in the market there.
So, what did ShopRite see in the Capital Region?
"We felt there was a great opportunity here. ... Based on the demographics and the excitement [for new options], it seemed like the right time," said Tom Urtz, ShopRite's VP of human resources and community affairs, to us today while store employees unpacked and arranged produce around us.
Urtz said the company has been looking to expand in recent years, and it's had success in the Hudson Valley. That prompted it to research the Capital Region, a process that included focus groups. And what did people in the focus groups want? "People were looking for competition and friendly service."
ShopRite is aiming to bring significant levels of both those things. Its choice of locations in the Capital Region has indicated an apparent desire to mix it up with the established players here, Price Chopper above all:
+ The Niskayuna store is down Balltown Road from a Price Chopper, and essentially right in the Golub Corp's backyard.
+ The Albany location is just down the street from the Westgate Chopper (and a Hannaford).
+ The Colonie location is down the road from the "green"/"kosher" Chopper.
+ And the Slingerlands location is literally right across the street from the Chopper there.
ShopRite officials went out of their way today to emphasize they that their strategy isn't necessarily aimed at going right after Price Chopper. But it's hard to see the locations as a coincidence.
ShopRite is also hoping customer service will help make it stand out from the competition. "The point of differentiation is [our] associates," Urtz said today, explaining that the company's training has focused on creating a positive and accommodating customer experience.
Another effort toward customer service: ShopRite from Home, its personal shopping service for pickup or delivery (see Craig's experience using it). Urtz said the service has been very popular in Niskayuna -- "exceeded expectations" -- and the company has been able to fold some of the lessons it's learned there in to the Albany store. The new location's design aims to highlight the service and make it easier to get in and out -- there's a separate entrance on the side of the building, and covered parking.
The personal shopping service is a good example of how the competition from ShopRite is already changing the market. Price Chopper introduced a similar service -- Shops4U -- at its Niskayuna store shortly after the arrival of ShopRite. And it recently expanded the service to... yep, you guessed it... its Westgate location. It'll be interesting to see how the competition continues to play out.
Urtz said today that ShopRite's current plan for the Capital Region is four stores. But they're always "exploring opportunities."
Old is new?
Sort of. As a lot of people probably remember, this isn't the first time the ShopRite brand has had a presence in the Capital Region. There were a few stores here that closed in the 1980s. ShopRite officials told us today those earlier stores were owned by a member of the cooperative that backs ShopRite stores. These new stores are owned by the corporation itself.
After poking around the store's various departments and browsing its aisles, we can safely report the Albany ShopRite is a modern supermarket. Sure, it's all shiny and new, but there's nothing significantly different about this store compared to any recent Hannaford/Price Chopper/whatever. That said, it is nice.
The Albany location is 65,000 square feet -- about 10,000 square feet larger than the Niskayuna location.
There are a bunch of large-format photos at the top of this page -- scroll all the way up.
Daniel shopped the Niskayuna location the day it opened last October -- a lot of what he saw will probably apply to the Albany location.
711 Central Ave
Albany, NY 12206
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