ACME President Talks about Supermarket’s Change of Directon
Apr 3rd, 2014
From the Philadelphia Business Journal:
Jim Perkins, who was named president of the Malvern, Pa.-based supermarket chain in February 2013, said new ownership has meant Acme is making changes more quickly and once again investing profits back into the stores. He made his comments last week as Acme was unveiling a remodeled store at 10th and Reed streets.
Upgrades are planned for stores in Willingboro, N.J.; Devon, Pa.; and Chestertown, Md. A store in Beach Haven, N.J., will be razed and rebuilt after the summer season.
“We felt like Acme was a Jeanie in a bottle that’s been tarnished,” Perkins said by phone. “The previous owners raised prices. We asked, ‘How do we get back customers we lost,’ and they’re coming back fast. People want to come back … We have a great brand but we were mishandling it. It was a great brand for 123 years, but the last few were not sterling. We’re taking back control, though of course a lot was taken from us. It’s still an iconic brand.”
Perkins’ appointment a year ago followed Eden Prairie-Minn.-based SuperValu $3.3 billion sale of Acme and four other supermarket chains to New York City-based Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm. Acme has nearly 11,000 employees in 110 stores — roughly 60 of which are in the Philadelphia market.
The acquisition by Cerberus followed a few years of decline in which Acme lost its long-time position as market leader and was overtaken by Giant and ShopRite. In the most recent rankings by Food Trade News, Acme ranked third in market share, with sales of $1.5 billion and a market share of 18.25 percent.
After the Cerberus acquisition just over a year ago, Jeff Metzger, editor of Food Trade News, said the deal was “truly a good thing.”
“The fact that Acme will no longer be part of the ineptitude that’s existed for the past six years in Eden Prairie, Minn., that paralyzed the once-mighty [Acme] is a victory in itself,” said Metzger.
The past year has reinforced that view, Metzger told me earlier this year, saying Acme was emerging from past problems. Employees from the SuperValu days say Acme’s culture has already changed.
“We got ourselves challenged in this market. We couldn’t react in areas where we can now,” said Acme’s director of marketing, Dennis Clark, who remained from the SuperValu days. “Now there’s not as much red tape. [Perkins] is right here. It’s not run out of Minnesota.”
“There’s no red tape, there’s no safety net,” said Perkins, who spoke bluntly about past issues. “It’s all on you. Everything we do is local. We all work here and live here.”
Perkins has a long career at both Albertson’s and Giant Foods Stores. Over the years, he’s been assigned to 17 geographic markets. When he rattles them off it sounds a bit like Johnny Cash’s song, “I’ve Been Everywhere.”
“Every market has its own needs,” Perkins said. “What works in Texas doesn’t always work in Oklahoma. Northern California wine country is not the same as L.A. Fort Lauderdale is not Miami.”
At Acme, the priorities are to offer more competitive pricing, better customer service, higher quality products and cleaner stores. When Acme was part of SuperValu, maintenance and upgrades lagged.
“10th and Reed was a pretty tired store,” Perkins said. “Now it’s a great looking store with a new floral department. We brought the pharmacy out to the front of the store. We have new items. We have aisles of organic food and gluten-free products. Cut fruit-and-veggies. New deli items.”
The store also features Philadelphia Eagles jerseys from over the years as well as the corresponding changes in the Acme logo.
Perkins has also turned his attention to getting labor contracts renewed. All but one labor contract has been signed.
In coming weeks, Acme will launch a marketing campaign featuring real employees talking about the changes. Perkins said the commercials, which will run on television and radio, were unscripted. He says he hears continually from employees who are relieved the company seems to be headed in the right direction. The theme is, “Acme: We’re back.”
“Fortunately, we have great strength,” Clark adds. “We have great locations. We think with better service and better stores, we can come back. And we’re glad to be back.”