Cary, N.C., looks a lot like any other American suburb. Subdivisions with newer colonial-style houses, townhouses and apartments dot the landscape. Strip malls feature Starbucks, nail salons and sushi joints. But there’s something about Cary that makes it distinctive from a food retailing standpoint. It’s home to what could be called a “supermarket superhighway,” a 5-mile stretch of State Road 1613 in the heart of the most, or certainly one of, the nation’s most competitive grocery markets.
Many of the biggest and best names in the grocery industry operate stores in this part of the country: Wegmans, Whole Foods, Walmart, Target, The Fresh Market, Kroger, Food Lion, Aldi, Publix, H Mart and Lidl. Despite considerable competition, Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Lowes Foods is the local favorite and a company that has positioned itself for growth with a unique brand of food retailing that makes it worthy of the moniker “super regional.” The company is winning with shoppers across its three-state trading area with a four-pronged value proposition that Lowes Foods President Tim Lowe describes as safety, friendliness, show and efficiency.
“I don’t worry about my competition; I worry about my consumer,” Lowe says during a tour of the company’s 52,000-square-foot store in Kernersville, N.C. “Our No. 1 goal is safety. Then it’s friendliness, show and efficiency.”
When it comes to safety, the COVID-19 crisis remains top of mind at Lowes, although the retailer has always had a pandemic plan in place. According to Lowe, the company has renowned epidemiologist Mike Osterholm on retainer to advise on safety protocols. Osterholm was recently named to President-elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 Advisory Board.
“We meet with him every month at the executive level and have a call with him for 30 minutes,” Lowe says. “He looks over our plan, gives us feedback, and says, ‘Yes, these are good things to do,’ or not, because he’s an expert in the field.”
While the retailer has made some operational adjustments, like everyone else in the industry, the other three elements of the Lowes Foods value prop remain in full force, to much success, the company says. In fact, Lowe isn’t kidding about the focus on “show” at Lowes Foods stores.