retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times has an interesting piece about the area just north of Greenwich Village in Manhattan, which is proving to be a draw for interesting food experiences. Trader Joe’s reportedly is close to signing a deal to come to the neighborhood, following on the heels of a new unit opened by Whole Foods, and a soon-to-reopen Balducci’s (a legendary name in the neighborhood that closed down in 2003).

The NYT also notes that Manhattan could soon have a visitor from the suburbs – Connecticut-based Stew Leonard’s reportedly is looking for space in the West Village or Chelsea area.
KC's View:
The NYT speculates that stores like Trader Joe’s and Stew Leonard’s will have to adjust their strategies if they are to make it in Manhattan. That’s an interesting thought, though we’re not sure how much we believe it.

Would Stew Leonard’s have to offer fewer kitsch and audio-animatronic figures in a Manhattan location…or would such an adjustment mean that it woudn’t be Stew Leonard’s anymore? Would Trader Joe’s have to adjust its product offering somehow for a Manhattan audience, or would such a shift make it less Trader Joe’s?

It is a particularly interesting business question because both Trader Joe’s and Stew Leonard’s are, essentially, limited assortment stores, carrying far fewer SKUs than traditional supermarkets. They are highly specific, strategic as well as tactical, and engender unusual loyalty among their shoppers. (We happen to be lucky enough to have both near us, and do virtually all of our food shopping at each of these retailers, as well as at Costco…so we have a sense of how these operations work.)

Not that they’re asking…but if the folks at Trader Joe’s and/or Stew Leonard’s asked us, we’d probably suggest that they simply be careful not to do anything that diminishes the broader brand equity…