Lidl Express revisited: where obscurity is strategy.

It’s not typical of me to post follow-up blog posts within a month of the original, but I’ve already done it once this month, so how much longer can I keep making this claim? Truth is, when I blog about situations close to where I live, it’s easy to revisit and find something new that sheds additional light on the analysis. And that’s what happens with Lidl Express in Arlington County, Virginia.

Last month, I thought it was interesting that this pilot for Lidl Express—the first of its kind in the country—would choose a comparatively obscure location to test its concept, the first convenience store variant on the popular German chain, which is slowly expanding its much larger grocery store concept throughout the East Coast. This tiny operation, no more than 800 square feet to display its merchandise, is directly competing with 7-Eleven Inc, among other established convenience brands. From what I can tell, the prices at Lidl Express are lower and the food in general appears healthier and bit more eclectic—closer to Trader Joe’s in philosophy than the candy, jerky, and slurpies you typically find a convenience stores. The mixed-use development that houses the Lidl Express, called the National Gateway at Potomac Yard, offers a reasonably high density of residences and office workers in the immediate vicinity. But the Lidl Express entrance is still completely invisible to motorists going along Richmond Highway, the primary arterial.

Revisiting the area from a different angle, the biggest directional sign I can find for the Lidl Express is this one.IMG_1345Nothing to sniff at. And it’s only on a minor street, again situated out of site from Richmond Highway.IMG_1346It points down the street and sidewalk that leads to the Lidl Express entrance.IMG_1347

Turn past that corner in the distance in the previous photo and there it is.IMG_1234Again, this is a reasonably densely populated area, by metro Washington DC standards. (By most of the country’s standards, it’s very dense.) And more buildings are springing up like dandelions.IMG_1348

 

But through this “ Lidl Express revisited ” blog post, I assert that I think the obscurity was a deliberate gesture. It couldn’t be easier for the corporate parent to monitor its little guinea pig. As I indicated in the previous post, the company itself is right there in the expansive National Gateway development. After looking further, I realize it’s not just nearby; it’s next door. Here’s the view peering into the windows when walking along that sidewalk indicated by the small directional sign, this time at night.IMG_1369IMG_1367IMG_1368Big bold colors of an apple and a kiwifruit. I thought it was just playful design. But these are signals of the tenant that claims this space. If one walks ten paces further, the actual main lobby finally reveals the brand.IMG_1370It’s hard to see, but the logo is there on the right end of the security desk. Five paces beyond that, and here’s the next major doorway.Lidl Express revisitedThe entrance to our Lidl Express revisited. But that’s about it. No big sign out front for the American HQ of a major international company.

Okay I confess: this may surpass Quiznos as my latest retail fixation. But at least Lidl seems to be on the upswing, even if its site selection decisions remain shrouded in mystery. This Lidl Express was a reasonably soft rollout: a casual reference in Washington Business Journal and a few other specialized trade publications, but it’s not big news in the region. No banners or balloons.

One of these publications mentions this Lidl Express as a “one off”, intended to acquaint the local market to the products available under the Lidl brand, since relatively few of the full-service Lidl supermarkets are operating within a reasonable driving distance from Washington DC and the sprawling northern Virginia suburbs. In some ways, this approach is testing the quality of the products more than the boldness of the visuals, because this Lidl Express is likely to depend heavily on word-of-mouth to maintain any sort of steady patronage. And, since the US headquarters is a stone’s throw away (literally a fifteen second walk!) it’s easy for the company’s leadership to monitor this tiny location and react with perfect dexterity. Perhaps a Lidl Express will be coming to a suburban intersection near you, but if this idiosyncratic roll-out is any indicator, the German conglomerate is entering the American market cautiously—a wise decision in an era where virtually all bricks-and-mortar retail is staring Death squarely in the eyes (or eye sockets).

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