Monday, October 27, 2008

Southern California Market Report: Beverages & More to Join Trader Joe's and Fresh & Easy to Form Manhattan Beach Food and Beverage Retailing Triangle

A portion of the old Office Depot building, along with an adjacent warehouse, that Tesco remodeled and turned into its Manhattan Beach, California Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market grocery store at 1700 Rosecrans Avenue will house a competitor of sorts to Tesco's Fresh & Easy, Fresh & Easy Buzz has learned.

Beverage and specialty foods category killer retailer Beverages & More (BevMo) plans to locate one of its discount spirits, wine, beer and specialty foods superstores next door to the 1700 Rosecrans Avenue Fresh & Easy grocery and fresh foods market, inside a portion of the building not used by the grocery chain for its market.

BevMo will join a Trader Joe's specialty grocery store, which is located at 1800 Rosecrans Avenue just across the parking lot from the Fresh & Easy store, as neighbors in what looks to be not only a one stop food and beverage shopping center but also is shaping up to be a very competitive corner of Manhattan Beach when it comes to food and beverages, especially beer, wine and spirits. We call it the Manhattan Beach food and beverage retailing triangle.

The city of Manhattan Beach Planning Commission recently voted to approve the Beverages & More store going into the 1700 Rosecrans Avenue location after some discussion about traffic concerns at the location, along with a review of the retailer's alcohol sales policy. After a discussion of BevMo's liquor sales policy and potential traffic concerns at the site, the planning commission voted to approve the chain's application to remodel a portion of the empty buildings next door to the Fresh & Easy, approving its permit. [You can view the planning documents here:]

Beverages & More stores, which average about 10,000 -to- 12,000 square feet, are described by the retailer as "alcohol-beverage lifestyle superstores." The stores devote about half their square footage to spirits, wines, craft beers and non-alcoholic beverages. The alcoholic beverage items range from the lowest end, price-focused brands, to the highest-end premium spirits, wines and craft beers. The stores also sell lots of varieties of bottled waters, sodas and new age-style non-alcoholic beverages.

The other half of the stores are devoted to selling shelf-stable specialty, natural and gourmet foods; snacks (both mass market and specialty brands); national brand and specialty candies; and non-foods items related to beverages and lifestyle. The non-foods merchandising mix includes wine and drink glasses (glass and disposable), paper plates and napkins, bar accessories and related items.

The Beverages & More stores also have refrigerated cases where cheeses, deli items and a small selection of related specialty and gourmet prepared foods products are offered for sale.

The focus of the stores revolves around alcoholic beverages and specialty foods (the "More" in Beverages & More. There's an education/sampling center in each store where wine, spirits and craft beer tastings are conducted regularly. Often times specialty food product sampling is combined with the beverage tastings.

Education about wine, spirits and craft beers is a big part of the chain's marketing. Wine makers and other experts are brought in-store regularly for seminars, tastings and related events. [Read about BevMo's chief wine buyer at this link: Wilfred Wong / Beverages & More's drinker in chief.]

The positioning of the BevMo chain is to be the best one-stop source for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage items in terms of overall selection (from low-end to premium), along with offering the best prices and value on the category items. Specialty foods also are priced at everyday low prices. The objective is to be a category killer in the alcoholic beverage and specialty foods categories.

BevMo, which is headquartered in Concord in the San Francisco Bay Area, currently operates 93 alcoholic beverage and specialty foods superstores: 45 in Northern California, 39 in Southern California and 9 in Arizona. Locations are based in and around the major metropolitan markets of San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego in California; and Phoenix in Arizona. The Manhattan Beach store will be number 94 for the chain.

Some history

Beverages & More is currently owned by the investment firm TowerBrook Capital Partners LP, which acquired the chain in 2007 from another investment firm.

However, it has an interesting entrepreneurial history.

BevMo was founded in 1994 in Concord, California by Steve Boone, an entrepreneur who previously had founded the Liquor Barn alcoholic beverage category killer chain in 1979 in partnership with Safeway Stores, Inc. Safeway later sold the chain when the supermarket company was acquired and taken private by the KKR investment firm in a leveraged buyout. (KKR later took Safeway Stores, Inc. public, which is its current status.)

Boone put together an investment group and opened the first Beverages & More store in Walnut Creek (next door to Concord) in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1994, beginning his second act in the liquor category killer retailing business.

The BevMo stores have many similarities to Boone's Liquor Barn stores. However, the Beverages & More stores are more upscale in design. They also feature specialty foods which the Liquor Barn stores didn't.

Boone ran BevMo for a number of years, opening about 20 or so stores, all in the Bay Area. He later ran into some financial problems in terms of operating capital for the chain and it was eventually sold to an investment group which eventually began adding new stores and expanding into Southern California and Arizona. Since acquiring Beverages & More last year TowerBrook Capital partners LP has been growing the store count as well, focusing particularly in Southern California and Arizona in terms of new store openings.

The Manhattan Beach retail triangle

With the BevMo store slated to go in right next door to Tesco's Fresh & Easy -- along with the Trader Joe's right across the parking lot -- 1700-1800 Rosecrans Avenue is set to become a competitive mecca for the sales of alcoholic beverages and specialty foods.

Beverages & More puts a big emphasis on selling wine, for example, which also is something Fresh & Easy and Trader Joe's do. BevMo often runs hot promotions in the wine category. For example it recently concluded its annual "buy one bottle at regular price get a second bottle of equal value for 5-cents" sale. Each year during this promotion the retailer moves tens of thousands of cases of wine in its stores. The retailer offers similar promotions regularly.

One point of differentiation Fresh & Easy has is that it sells basic food and grocery items, along with prepared foods, natural and specialty foods, and alcoholic beverages. Since Trader Joe's focus is natural and specialty products at discount prices and BevMo's focus is alcoholic beverages and specialty foods, this is helpful to Fresh & Easy in this up-an-coming super-competitive location.

Of course, wine is an important category for Fresh & Easy. The retailer also needs to sell lots of prepared and specialty foods along with its basic groceries in its stores. That's where the bigger market basket (average ring) sizes and higher margins come from. Having a category killer like BevMo coming in right next door will likely kill some of these category sales for the Fresh & Easy store.

The Trader Joe's at 1800 Rosecrans, which also sells wine and craft beers and prepared foods along with its natural and specialty foods focus, does very well. Local sources tell us the store grosses about $500,000 in weekly sales. This isn't an unusual number for a Trader Joe's store even though they average only about 10,000 square feet. The retailer has among the highest gross sales per square foot of any food and grocery retailer in the U.S.

The 17000 Rosecrans Fresh & Easy location, which opened in early July of this year, also has been a good one for Tesco -- one of its best thus far actually. According to our estimates, which come from a very good source, the store has been averaging about $200,000 in gross weekly sales since shortly after opening. That's among the highest in sales of all of the current 96 Fresh & Easy grocery and fresh foods markets open to date.

Based on how well both the Trader Joe's and the Fresh & Easy are doing in their neighboring Rosecrans Avenue locations in Manhattan Beach, its rather safe to say it is a good food and grocery retailing location.

In fact, the Fresh & Easy store there appears to have thus far benefited from locating near the existing Trader Joe's unit. This isn't unusual in good locations. A new retailer can tap into an existing retailer's customer base and even expand the base. And since the Fresh & Easy store sells basic groceries and the Trader Joe's doesn't, that's a complementary aspect despite the fact the two retailers also have many categories in common from a competitive standpoint.

Perhaps the addition of the Beverages & More store in the mix will even further expand the customer base at what will become the 1700-1800 Rosecrans food and beverage retailing triangle in Manhattan Beach?

One thing though is for sure, shoppers will be able to competitively shop rather easily for that bottle of wine or 6-pack of beer, along with having a wide-variety of specialty and natural foods items to choose from at competitive prices with the addition of the new BevMo store to the neighborhood mix. Perhaps we should name the entire Manhattan Beach retail triangle -- Trader Joe's, Fresh & Easy and now BevMo -- "Booze and More?"


Anonymous said...

There is also a BevMo going in right next door to the new Mira Mesa F&E. Should be interesting to see hwo it plays out.

Anonymous said...

Liquor stores should always regulate the selling of their items to customers, and must see to it that minors aren't allowed to get alcohol. This is done in order to assure the public that alcohol won't victimize teens, who doesn't know yet the complications of early addiction.