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Seattle: The area’s retail scene is more than just Amazon

BY Carol Radice

To say Seattle and its surrounds have been experiencing a growth spurt as of late is an understatement. Simply put, this region’s economy is thriving. The job growth rate during the past decade has been impressive thanks in large part to Amazon. But its growth stretches beyond Amazon in that a significant number of Fortune 500 companies, many of which operate engineering and research businesses, also call Seattle home.

Not surprisingly, the area is highly attractive to millennials. But it is not a region without challenges. Real estate prices and escalating rents have severally limited the amount of affordable housing options, and the increasing number of people moving to the area is heavily straining the city’s roadways. Additionally, Seattle has long struggled with effectively addressing its large homeless population.

Taking what some have called an aggressive stance to remedy these issues, Seattle officials are working hard to make changes, from increasing the local minimum wage to $15, working with developers to create more affordable housing and opening access to preschool. The city also has pushed through a tax on short-term rentals, the funds of which will be earmarked for services for the homeless.

Hometown drug chain Bartell Drugs has been expanding both its footprint to 67 stores while building out its services. It has opened new Kaiser Permanente CareClinics, growing the total number to 15, and recently named its first CEO who wasn’t a member of the Bartell family. All of this has taken place as it looks to meet the needs of its Amazon-friendly city, offering its products through Amazon Prime.

In terms of retail growth, the Kirkland area added a Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s in 2017, a new Fred Meyer’s opened in Gig Harbor, while a new Town & Country Market was built in the Village at Harbor Hill also in Gig Harbor.

Other key retailers with a strong presence in the area include PCC Community Markets; Kroger, under its corporate banner, QFC, Metro Market and Fred Meyer; Whole Foods; Safeway; and new addition Amazon Go.

For shoppers whose driving factor is cost, Fred Meyer remains a top choice, but for many of the younger, urban professionals, retailers offering unique assortments are sought out. PCC’s Fremont location in Seattle, for example, is routinely touted for its quality prepared foods selection, gluten-free offerings, coffee bar and bakery goods, as well as its exemplary customer service.

QFC earns high points as well from shoppers for its friendly staff, well-organized floor plans, quality food offerings and affordable price points. Often cited for its local/farm/organic produce options, the retailer also carries a wide assortment of higher-end items and ethnic foods, as well as has an extensive beer and wine offering. The cheese island, sandwich station and restaurant-quality soup are also well sought after. And QFC earns extra brownie points from shoppers for offering free parking.

All eyes have been on the much-discussed Amazon Go, the experimental cashier-free convenience store located in downtown Seattle. The 1,800-sq.-ft. mini-market is stocked with many items easily found in other convenience stores, plus some items normally found at Whole Foods. Armed with Amazon’s smartphone app, shoppers place whatever they want to buy in a shopping bag and leave without the need to check out using a traditional cashier system. Minutes later, their Amazon account sends them a receipt via their smartphone. It’s still too early to know whether shoppers will love or hate the new concept, and Amazon remains mum on plans for expansion, but it does have some wondering if Whole Foods stores will benefit from the technology in the future, or if Amazon is interested in selling the system to other retailers.

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Motor City’s retail scene firing on all cylinders

BY Carol Radice

More than 4.3 million people call the Detroit metro area home. Slightly less than 4,000 square miles in area, the Motor City boasts a mix of suburbs and city space.

Steady employment gains and an increase in the number of new households are spurring retail growth in the region. More than 100,000 people have been added to the workforce in the past few years.

Widely known as having one of the largest economies in the nation, Detroit remains heavily dependent on the automotive sector with General Motors, Ford Motor and Chrysler all headquartered here. Just more than a dozen Fortune 500 corporations are based in the metro area, including CMS Energy, DTE Energy, Pulte Homes, Kelly Services, Lear, Amazon and Penske Logistics.

While the area has been experiencing growth the past decade, area leaders and officials are working to make sure the growth trend continues by courting other industries to the area, particularly those in the healthcare and technology sectors.

Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have a presence in the area, but it is the Kroger banner that is most often seen here. The chain has been expanding its stores, relocating others or building new ones altogether. Throughout its growth, Kroger has stayed committed to offering shoppers local products, quality service and focusing on the local community. Its Kroger Marketplace format is garnering much of the attention these days. The 115,000-sq.-ft. Royal Oak location, for instance, offers everything from organic food options, fresh food, clothing, furniture and more. A full-service pharmacy offers free delivery of medication and there is a bank branch inside.

Fresh Thyme Farmer’s Market has been expanding in the Midwest and, particularly, in Michigan, as well. Shoppers love it for its atypical assortments, large private-label offering, emphasis on natural and organic, restaurant-quality sushi, gluten-free offerings and prepared foods.

Meijer also has a strong presence in the region. The privately-held company is best known for its customer service, well-thought-out layouts, low prices, quality foods, fresh produce and broad selections of national and Meijer-brand items. As the self-proclaimed inventor of the “one-stop shopping” supercenter concept, Meijer may have substantial general merchandise offerings, but it considers itself a grocery store first.

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Riverside, San Bernardino: Local chains corner market in the Inland Empire

BY DSN STAFF

Its roots may be in agriculture, but today the Inland Empire of California — which includes Riverside and San Bernardino counties — is more known for its industrial development. The Inland Empire is a major distribution hub for Southern California due to its proximity to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Its vast warehouse complexes house fulfillment and logistics centers for the likes of Amazon, Georgia Pacific and others.

While it may be near Los Angeles and the high-rent district of Orange County, the Inland Empire could not be more opposite in terms of per capita earnings. Low- and middle-income families dominate the area due to its affordable housing. As the coastal communities become too expensive for many to live, more people are moving inland.

The Inland Empire was among the regions hardest hit by the recession in California, but it has since added back jobs at a pace exceeded only by the flourishing tech hubs in San Francisco and Santa Clara.

However, the region is not without its issues. Its poverty rate is exceptionally high by national standards. Both counties were rated as having poor air quality and were given an “F” by the American Lung Association recently, and traffic also is a serious issue.

The retail landscape has been in a transition, as well. Some companies such as Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons have been closing stores, while others, including Stater Bros., have been expanding their presence in the area with a number of new store openings planned. Headquartered in San Bernardino, Stater Bros. has been around for more than 80 years. It has been named by Forbes as one of top 20 com-panies in the United States to offer exceptional job security for its employees and has been rated as the “best place to shop for groceries” among full-service supermarket chains in Southern California.

Deeply entrenched in the community, the chain believes in giving back. In the past 10 years, it has contributed more than $75 million in food and funds to local organizations that support hunger relief, children’s well-being, education, health, and help for veterans and active service members.

Its Mission Grove store opened in the fall of 2017, in a space previously occupied by Ralphs market. Focusing on service, Stater Bros. did not shy away from offering employee-manned, service-oriented departments, which include freshly made sushi and a fresh fruit bar in the 45,000-sq.-ft. store. The bakery and butcher sections are generously stocked, with a large array of artisanal breads and marinated cuts. There’s also a nice selection of organic and international foods that shoppers rave about.

Within this market, Albertsons often gets cited by shoppers for its terrific in-store bakery, clean stores and customer service, but it’s no-frills WinCo that customers love for its low prices, convenient hours, weekly deals and bulk food section.
Another standout retailer in the region is Spouts Farmers Market, with one of its newest locations in Redlands touted by customers for its cleanliness, large selection of farm fresh produce, organic products, distinct ready-to-eat meals, vast bulk food section and sushi station.
Others cite the butcher shop and fish market and fresh seafood that’s delivered up to six days a week.

It also earns high marks for its customer service and friendly, helpful employees. Indeed, Sprouts officials take customer service more seriously than most, and their goal is to hire passionate people and invest in their training. The importance they place on having team members who are knowledgeable and approachable has not gone unnoticed by shoppers.

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