by John McCurry/contributing writer
Bravo Supermarkets has been growing fast in Florida ever since it expanded there about 16 years ago. The chain now has more than 50 multicultural stores in Florida and is looking to add more.
Bravo is part of a “virtual” chain operated by New York-based Krasdale Foods and its marketing arm, Alpha 1 Marketing. The unique relationship bears explaining.
“We own the name and we let the independent operators run the stores,” said Dennis Wallin, a longtime grocery industry executive and EVP of Alpha 1 Marketing. “We provide the merchandising and the store support, beginning with choosing the location and lease negotiation. It operates as a chain, while not really being a chain. All of the stores are independently owned, and they voluntarily work with us. It’s been very successful.”
While there are a few stores north of Orlando, most are in South Florida. Support for the Florida stores is centered in Miami. A purchasing office is located there as well as a merchandising office.
“We make sure the location we take is the right location and has a good chance of being profitable,” Wallin said. “We do all of the store setup and design. It takes a lot of homework, and we have had a very good track record of success in Florida. The vast majority of stores we have started through the years are still operating with us. We think it’s been a great 16 years.”
The expansion will continue in 2020. Wallin said he is looking for three or four more stores in the southern half of Florida within the next six to nine months, but he declined to reveal where for competitive reasons.
Krasdale adopted the Bravo name about 30 years ago for some of the stores it works with in New York. The company noticed that there was a migration of store owners and managers to Florida. Company officials decided there was an opportunity to develop a voluntary, independent group operating under that same name in Florida.
“So, we took a look at Florida, spent weeks driving around the state and decided we sensed an opportunity,” Wallin said.
Most of the Bravo stores in Florida are in the 15,000-25,000-s.f. range, which Wallin said is a manageable size.
“We don’t want 60,000-s.f. stores,” he said. “We cater to the specific needs of the neighborhood; it’s not a cookie-cutter approach. We provide merchandise for the ethnicity of the people in the area.”
With so many options available, grocery stores have to differentiate themselves. Wallin said Bravo accomplishes this by establishing a “homey” feeling for customers when they walk into a store. Store managers or owners are always on the premises to take care of customer issues, and merchandise is fairly priced, he said. Some Bravo supermarkets target a broad base of clientele, but most focus on the demographics in their areas, which in many cases is Hispanic.
“Our basic format for any location is to focus on the demographics within a five-mile ring of the store and cater specifically to those living within that ring,” said Frank Boemio, director of Florida store operations and new business development. “We offer prepared foods and hot foods. Our lunch counters are very busy. We have local chefs, people who know the area.”
Wallin said all of the Bravo stores strive to become active in their respective communities. Owners and managers live in the communities and speak the languages. That’s been a key to the company’s consistent growth, he said.
Wallin and Boemio are quick to offer examples of how Bravo store managers go beyond the norm to serve their markets. One that has gained attention is the story of Luis Merejo, owner of the Bravo Supermarket in Port St. Lucie, where the New York Mets hold spring training and also have a minor league team. Merejo has helped young Latin American ballplayers as they adjust to living in the U.S. His support goes far beyond just the Hispanic-oriented food offered at his store. Merejo’s generosity was chronicled in The New York Times a few years ago.
“He (Merejo) provides support to young players and coaches,” Wallin said. “He even set up a batting cage in his backyard for them to use. He also rents out small houses to players.”
Finding qualified employees can be a challenge in South Florida, as is the case in other regions. Wallin acknowledged that hiring employees is becoming more difficult, but Bravo is succeeding and cultivating a work force. He said those who are interested can make a nice career in the supermarket business; many Bravo store owners began their careers bagging groceries.
With its growth ongoing, Krasdale and Alpha 1 Marketing are always on the lookout for new retail space. Wallin said the company prefers to build into existing space because building from the ground up takes more time and is more expensive.
“For the most part in Florida, there is a lot of empty retail space,” Wallin said.
The competitive grocery market is full of challenges. Wallin said that when a grocer is successful in a particular area, others want to jump in. He is confident that Bravo, Alpha 1 and Krasdale are ready.
“We are meeting and beating the competition,” he said. “It’s a struggle to make sure that 10 years from now delivery from Amazon won’t be nibbling away at us. But people want to see the meat and produce they are putting on the table and they like the service we provide. We are in it for the long run. We are not leaving. Bravo has built a successful name over 16 years.”
iFresh opens Miami store
New York Mart North Miami Inc., a subsidiary of Asian-American grocer iFresh Inc., opened a new store this year in the middle of a densely populated metro area with a large Asian demographic.
The new 30,000-s.f. supermarket, which had its official grand opening in February, has undergone nearly four years of construction and renovation. The Shelby Report’s VP-Southeast Tom Bachmann visited the store.
It is the largest supermarket in the area, according to the company, offering a specialty Asian foods, snacks, beverages and household goods.
The supermarket features a wide selection of locally sourced and seasonal produce and goods. iFresh plans to lease additional planned commercial space to local businesses and, thus far, has leased a portion of the space to a spa, a Chinese tea store and liquor stores.
There also are seven food vendors within the supermarket.
“I am excited to announce the grand opening of a new iFresh location in North Miami. This is by far the largest investment in one supermarket that we have made, with over $8 million invested in total,” said Long Deng, CEO and chairman of iFresh, in a news release. “We are committed to creating a multi-purpose destination to elevate the shopping experience for our customers where shopping, dining, and leisure will be provided with an array of quality choices.”
The new location makes three iFresh stores in South Florida.
Walmart tests innovations in Miami-area store
The Walmart Neighborhood Market that opened at the beginning of the year in Coral Way, in the Miami area, features several new technologies, according to Patrick Shanks, regional VP of Neighborhood Market Operations, in a blog on the Walmart website.
The store offers Online Grocery Pickup, marking the retailer’s first grocery pickup location in that part of Miami. The store can fill hundreds of orders per day. Customers can order online and pick up their groceries without leaving their vehicles.
If customers don’t want to get in their cars at all, they can choose Same-Day Grocery Delivery. With that service, Walmart personal shoppers pick out produce and grocery items to be delivered to customers’ doorsteps.
The store also offers expanded self-checkout options. Coral Way, Shanks said, is the first location in Florida to offer this “fast, efficient checkout experience.” Walmart tested expanded self-checkout at a prototype store in Arkansas. Coral Way offers large basket self-checkout lanes that give the customer the option to scan the groceries themselves or have a self-checkout host assist with the transaction.
With “Check Out With Me,” associates can check customers out anywhere in the store using handheld store devices.
“I know customers will love this store, but I’m even more excited about how our associates will react to it,” said Shanks in the Jan. 7 post. “Associates across the country tell us they want to spend less time on repetitive tasks and more time helping customers. By expanding self-checkout and adding Check Out With Me, associates will be on the sales floor where they can help customers–fast.”