My latest post is on Urban Indy. It comes with the local news (WISH-TV) announcement that it has now been five years since Indianapolis grocery store chain Marsh Supermarkets closed all of its 44 remaining locations, having been run by private equity firm Sun Capital for the last 15 years. The chain, a staple of Indiana and eastern Ohio since the 1930s and formerly known as an innovator, stumbled heavily in its last two decades, dropping from about 100 locations (and a few acquisitions/spinoffs) to fewer than 50. While the much-heralded 2014 opening of the downtown Indianapolis Marsh suggested a possible reversal of fortunes, most of us saw the writing on the wall: this company was floundering. The majority of its locations were small, outdated, and run down. The company was so stuck in a rut that, just a few years before it closed, I bought a box of wholesale brand cereal from a Marsh, and the back of the box looked like this:
That’s right. The Internet and How It Works on a product sold in 2015. It should come as no surprise, then, that the WISH-TV article noted how about half of the Marsh locations haven’t found a buyer, or they sit in limbo under new ownership. (At least a few of those instances, the new owner is Kroger. Who has mothballed its own properties.)
Speaking of Kroger, it became the dominant grocery presence in Indianapolis quite some time before Marsh fully closed. But what was its strategy at staying modern? The answer: opening and shuttering locations, often in a surprisingly short period of time. For example, the Kroger close to where I grew up, on the south side of Indy (near the suburb of Greenwood), has had FOUR SITES just north of the Greenwood Park Mall since I was a kid:
Those were just the locations growing up. It found a new one (number four) just a few years ago. If you think Kroger has finally found a place where it’ll stay put, I have a pedestrian bridge in Springfield, Missouri to sell you. In the meantime, it’s worth exploring why this strategy has made Cincinnati-based Kroger not just the dominant grocery store chain not just in the Midwest, but in a good part of the country: it’s the nation’s third largest retailer behind Amazon and Walmart. I covered Fred Meyer, its Pacific Northwest operation, just a few weeks ago. Basically, Kroger has done what Marsh ultimately failed to do: make strategic decisions with its real estate portfolio that align with shifting customer tastes. And these decisions often preclude upgrading an existing structure, living the old Krogers as castaways for other, smaller companies to pick up.
Oh well–at least it’s still a fully functional grocery store. Learn all about the details at Urban Indy, then offer your own commentary wherever you like.