Consultant Flickinger Joins Investors Mulling Tops Markets Buy

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Consultant Flickinger Joins Investors Mulling Tops Markets Buy

WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. -- An investment group made up of both local and out-of-town parties is considering purchasing Ahold division Tops Markets here -- and well-known grocery industry consultant Burt P. Flickinger III is not only advising the group on the deal, he's also a member.

Flickinger, who is managing director at New York-based Strategic Resource Group, declined to reveal further details about the group, citing certain restrictions, but made clear that its members share his desire to make Tops a locally owned and operated company again, with the current management, including e.v.p. and g.m. Max Henderson Jr., at the helm. "We support the current Tops team," he told Progressive Grocer in an interview.

Despite the tough economy confronting supermarket operators, particularly in Tops' trading areas, where employment, population loss, and the specter of Wal-Mart have done their damage, Flickinger said he believes there are "still some opportunities to rebuild the business," and credited the chain's local executives with doing "a good job under challenging circumstances."

Flickinger also has a personal interest in the company, which operates 72 locations in New York state and Pennsylvania, four of them under the Martin's Super Food Stores banner.

"Our family was actively involved with Tops," he said. "We co-financed the first 60 stores that opened." The Flickingers ran the locally based grocery retailer and wholesaler S.M. Flickinger Co.

After Ahold, a giant retail conglomerate "six time zones away" bought Tops, procurement was consolidated, at the cost of bypassing local suppliers, growers, printers, advertising and marketing agencies, and the like, noted Flickinger, resulting in consumer defections to rival retailers stocking favorite local brands.

The investor group would restore the local focus for which the original Tops was known and loved, he added, in terms of choosing local ad and marketing agencies that understand Tops' markets, working with growers and suppliers in the region, and employing research from area universities.

The group also supports Tops' unionized work force, to which Flickinger gives kudos for its productivity.

Rebuilding the business will make Tops more competitive in terms of pricing and promotions, according to Flickinger, who described himself as "optimistic" about the chances of the deal going through.