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The St. Petersburg Times has a profile of Winn-Dixie CEO Peter Lynch, detailing the hands-on ground game that he is attempting to use to revitalize the company after years of neglect and mismanagement at the 522-store chain.

Some excerpts:

• “To stay competitive, a supermarket usually needs remodeling every seven to 10 years. Many Winn-Dixies had not been touched beyond a paint job in 15 years. Some went 25 years.

“Despite its minimal cash after emerging from bankruptcy, Lynch scraped together $300 million to remodel half the chain so far. The bright and clean updated stores boast a tantalizing array of perishables, a third more produce items, a sushi bar, olive bar, custom sandwich counter and artisan breads. The new layout also includes some unusual touches: 10 types of chicken wings in a grab-as-many-as-you-want deli and a produce section that starts outside like a farmers market with bins of apples, pears and green peppers displayed in an open-air vestibule.

“The entry doors that used to face the back end of a row of cash registers now open right into colorful floral and produce displays and the flames of a rotisserie oven.”

• “Realizing Winn-Dixie stores needed a bigger shakeup, Lynch dreamed up a flashy new prototype that costs twice as much — $4 million — to open. The first three opened over the summer in Covington, La.; Mobile, Ala.; and Margate, near Fort Lauderdale.

“Designed to appeal to affluent shoppers, the stores are on pace to hit sales of $470 a square foot.

“Lynch ordered 17 more for 2011. About two-thirds of the winning tactics from the test stores will spread throughout the chain, which needs three more years to remodel the rest of the stores.

“It’s a big change for Winn-Dixie, once a low-price operator that has been earning a reputation for higher prices lately. Lynch sees Winn-Dixie’s future competing with the higher price/product/service offering at Publix rather than trying to beat low-ball pricing at Walmart, Aldi, Save-A-Lot and Target.

“‘The affluent customer is back,’ Lynch said. ‘There will always be some customers out for the absolute lowest price. But we are convinced most shoppers today are willing to pay for a well-run store, customer service and quality foods’.”

Still, the story notes, Lynch is fighting an uphill battle as the chain faces sales and productivity decreases.
KC's View:
Certainly Peter Lynch is a lot smarter about this stuff than I am, but here’s what occurred to me when I read this story.

If it were me, I’m not sure I’d be comparing myself with either Publix or Walmart, since both companies have highly specific competitive positions in the marketplace. I think I might be trying to define my company as something else - as a different kind of shopping experience that is changing the rules, challenging conventions, rather than playing the other guy’s game.

Maybe this is just semantics, and maybe I’m just seeing the newspaper quote rather than the broader strategy. And maybe I’m wrong.

But that’s what I first thought.

I’m also a little surprised by the comment about affluent customers being back. Again, maybe this is splitting hairs, but I think he might have been on more solid ground by talking about aspirational customers ... especially since Winn-Dixie’s home market, Florida, continues to be decimated by a tough economy.

But again, maybe I’m wrong.