Bi-Lo to hire 100 new workers and spend $6 million to update stores in the Chattanooga area

Bi-Lo to hire 100 new workers and spend $6 million to update stores in the Chattanooga area

July 15th, 2012 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Shoppers enter the recently remodeled Bi-Lo store at 3600 Hixson Pike. The Rivermont store is the newest Bi-Lo unit in the Chattanooga region to be updated.

Photo by Alyson Wright/Times Free Press.

BI-LO 'CLEAN AND BRIGHT' PROJECTS

• 255 Ocoee Crossing in Cleveland, Tenn.

• 3600 Hixson Pike

• 703 Signal Mountain Road, coming July 25

• 4510 Highway 58, coming Aug. 8

• 420 Market St., Dayton, Tenn., coming Oct. 24

Source: Bi-Lo

BI-LO HOLDINGS

Stores: 687 Bi-Lo and Winn-Dixie units

Footprint: Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina

Headquarters: Jacksonville, Fla.

Employees: 63,000; over 2,000 in Chattanooga area

Owner: Majority-owned by Dallas-based Lone Star Funds

Bi-Lo expects to spend more than $6 million this year in the Chattanooga area and add more than 100 new workers as it updates five area stores.

Officials said they plan even more store renovations in the region in 2013.

"We're reinvesting in the total market," said Fred Shropshier, Bi-Lo's regional vice president, as he and others marked the refurbishing of its Rivermont store off Hixson Pike last week.

Shropshier said Bi-Lo's blockbuster merger with the Winn-Dixie grocery chain that closed this spring has already helped the combined company streamline its buying operations.

"We've already taken advantage of synergies ... with contractual agreements with suppliers," he said.

Those savings, along with others realized from integrating support staff for the companies, have enabled the grocer to pass those on to consumers and make the capital investments in stores, Shropshier said.

The Bi-Lo executive, a 29-year employee, said officials call the store updates "clean and bright projects."

Bi-Lo is the Chattanooga area's top grocer, with 31 stores ranging from Dayton, Tenn., to Blairsville, Ga.

It has more than 2,000 employees and expects to add over 100 by the time this year's store updates are complete, Shropshier said.

"We'll add 20 to 25 employees anytime we do a remodel," he said.

The merger with Winn-Dixie, which itself had a half dozen stores in the area until leaving in 2005, was announced last December. Bi-Lo, which is majority-owned by privately held Lone Star Funds of Dallas, paid about $560 million for its then-public counterpart based in Jacksonville, Fla.

Both of the supermarket chains filed for bankruptcy relief in the past decade amid keen competition.

The new company, based in Jacksonville, has nearly 700 stores covering much of the Southeast and is ranked as the ninth largest grocer in country.

Lorrie Griffith, editor of the industry publication The Shelby Report, said that Bi-Lo spending more than $6 million in the Chattanooga area indicates the company believes it's "going in the right direction" in the market.

She said Bi-Lo and Winn-Dixie stores each have strengths, but they must "keep their eye on the prize" - customers - in order to do well moving ahead.

Griffith added that the grocery business is challenging and it will be tough to gain market share.

"That remains to be seen," she said.

Bi-Lo is expected to benefit from the closure of most of the Food Lion stores in the Chattanooga area earlier this year.

At the same time, Bi-Lo is battling retailing giants Walmart and Target. Groceries accounted for 55 percent of Walmart's $264.2 billion in U.S. sales in the year ended Jan. 31, according to The Wall Street Journal. That's up from 41 percent four years ago.

Target's Hixson store recently finished a massive remodel to offer produce and other items.

Bi-Lo locally is focusing on upgrading existing stores to woo more business, said district director Daryl Massey.

"Our goal is to take good care of our customers," he said. "We'll get our fair share and more."

At the Rivermont Bi-Lo, he said, the company renovated using "softer, warmer colors," having a modern decor and updating the departments inside the store.

Also, the store boasts new refrigerated cases and more product varieties, officials said.

In addition, the store has added about 25 employees, pushing the head count up to about 75, Shropshier said.

He said shoppers will notice the store is cleaner, brighter and more open.

"We want them to be comfortable as they shop," Shropshier said. "This is a very good market for us. We're trying to go back and reinvest in markets in which customers have supported us."

The company even presented Bethel Bible Village with a $500 donation last week.

Shoppers at the Bi-Lo store said they liked the changes, even though they had to relearn where some products are located.

Marilyn Bonderud of Chattanooga said the store is clean.

"There's a lot of room in the aisles," she said.

Bettye Thomas of Chattanooga said she doesn't shop at Walmart, but prefers the Bi-Lo store which is closer to her home.

"The staff is so friendly," she said.

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