Thursday, April 28, 2011

Winn Dixie "Winns" me Over

Of the five major grocery chains in our market, Winn Dixie is the best choice.

In my previous posting on Wal-Mart, I noted that the place has really gone to hell in a handbasket.  And this is not only because of decisions made in Bentonville, Arkansas, but because of poor management of the local store.  Wal-Mart has screwed the pooch, and the 10% drop in share price reflects this.
We were Publix people when living in Florida - they have amazing stores there - clean, well-stocked, and huge.  Here in Georgia, we have one Publix, and well, it is a little sad compared to the ones in Florida.

There is a Harris Teeter here, but that is pretty far away, and a small store with high prices, although they have a staggering wine department.

When the recession hit, we explored the local Wal-Mart and were pleasantly surprised with the selection and the prices.  But Wal-Mart dropped the ball, dropping many of its best store-branded products in favor of leasing shelf space to Nabisco and other big suppliers.  The store got dirty and disorganized.  Whole sections of shelving were bare. Garbage in the aisles.  Abandoned cars in the parking lot.   The raison d'ĂȘtre for going there ceased.  And few of the customers there would have understood the last sentence.

We tried a local chain, Harvey's, which has really good meat, but they sell a lot of junk food and the store is poorly organized - potato chips on every aisle, it seems (again, the practice of leasing end-caps makes a store a nightmare mish-mash of displays).

Winn Dixie was never our first choice.  When we moved here the store was older and not attractive.  But since then, they have remodeled the stores (there are three, with the one on St. Simons Island being the nicest).

The store is clean, has a good selection, is well-stocked, has good food, a reasonable wine selection, good deli and great bakery (the cakes in Brunswick are pretty amazing).

I was a little annoyed with their promotional tactics  - again, they throw pennies at us, hoping we spend dollars.  You get 50 cents off on a gallon of gas, as I previously noted, if you buy a certain amount of food.

Other promotions are a bit whimsical.  Buy four boxes of cereal (or oatmeal) and get $14 worth of milk, orange juice, Folger's coffee, and donuts.  They ran this under the banner, "everyone gets breakfast!"   It was a little fun, even if a come-on.

Since then, they have done similar promotions, tying like items together (materials for a backyard barbecue, for example).  Promotions and schemes generally annoy me - I prefer basic low prices, and hence my initial attraction to Wal-Mart.  But if you don't have products in stock, what's the point of having low prices?

The tipping point for me, however, has been the pharmacy.  They match Wal-Mart's pricing plans, so I can get the Wal-Mart price, without having to go to Wal-Mart.  And since we are already in the store, picking up a prescription is easier as well.

The question remains, is this a fluke, or part of an overall plan on the part of Winn-Dixie?  Apparently the latter.  The company emerged from bankruptcy a few years back and has spun off its manufacturing divisions, selling the last of them, a bottling plant, to Polar.  The goal is to concentrate on running the stores, instead of vertical integration.  And an aggressive store remodeling plan has helped the company shed its former image of run-down stores in poor neighborhoods.

It sounds like a pretty good plan, to me.  And it seems to be working so far.

So I logged onto Ameritrade and bought some stock in the company - $7 a share.  What have I got to lose?

UPDATE:  May 25, 2011.  Apparently I made the right call here. The stock is up over 26% since I bought it.  Sometimes, we get lucky.