Ingles continues growth trendWritten by Colby Dunn
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Ingles got a green light last week from Waynesville’s town board to bulk out their Russ Avenue location, complete with gas station and convenience store, adding another expansion to the chain’s growing empire of new and revamped stores.
The store will jump to nearly 120,000 square feet, taking over the adjacent storefronts vacated by Goody’s and others, and will feature a host of new offerings, including an expanded café and wine section.
While Ingles spokesmen won’t comment on their corporate strategy, the expansion is part of a campaign to enlarge their locations across the Southeast and build new ones.
The chain just came out with plans for a new megastore on Smoky Park Highway in Asheville. What will eventually be the largest of the chain’s 203 stores has, this week, been announced in Hull, Ga., just outside Athens.
While other businesses continue to struggle, Ingles has posted healthy profits for the last several quarters. This follows two years of declining profits from 2008-2009.
From October to December 2010, the company christened one new store and opened two remodeled locations. At the same time, it reported a nearly 4 percent increase in sales, up $1.7 million over the same quarter the previous year. On tap for the remainder of 2011 are five new or remodeled store openings, plus six new gas stations, with a new wing being tacked onto its Asheville distribution center in 2012.
“We’re off to a strong start for fiscal year 2011,” said CEO Robert Ingle in a statement last month. “Overall conditions are improving, but we continue to be cautious about the next few quarters.”
Such healthy sales numbers aren’t a new phenomenon for the store. At the close of 2010, it celebrated its 46th consecutive year of sales growth. The company has managed to stay profitable, even in a continually slumping economy, which could be due in part to a dearth of comparable competition.
While Ingles has now swooped in to dominate the western counties, many of the store’s historic rivals such as Harris Teeter and Winn Dixie have been slowly pulling out of the area.
The former has been concentrating its efforts and dollars on urban landscapes like Greensboro, Charlotte and their attendant suburbs, while the latter emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2006 and dragged it’s operations southwards, shunning locales north of Birmingham.
Even so, Ingles announced last month that it would be pulling the reins on its ambitious course of growth and expansion.
Beyond already-planned projects, finance officials have reported that they’re going to scale down the growth agenda they pushed in 2008 and 2009.
“The Company is being more cautious in its development plans until economic conditions improve,” said an uncharacteristic statement on its business forecasting released with first-quarter financial statements in January.
So while Canton and Cashiers — and soon Waynesville — are reveling in their new digs, the same good fortunes may not be coming to the region’s other stores any time soon.
As for the Russ Avenue build-out, Chief Financial Officer Ron Freeman said hopes are to get the project off the ground relatively quickly.
“Given the weather this time of year, it’s difficult to say when we’ll get started, which will have a lot to do with when we expect to finish,” said Freeman. “It’s too early to tell.”
The remodeled version will sit on a footprint of nearly 120,000 square feet and construction will be phased to allow the store to remain open. The portion of the shopping center once occupied by Goody’s will be razed first, followed by the northern half of the building, where the store is now located.
The average size of an Ingles store rose 10 percent over the past five years and was 53,524 square feet as of late September, according to a company regulatory filing. Waynesville will be two and a half times the average store size.
Plan passed by town boardThe supermarket chain came before the board with its application for a conditional use zone, which would allow them to sidestep some of the town’s current regulations.
The biggest variance the store sought was for their parking lot. Current rules require parking lots to be behind new or renovated buildings, a near-impossibility on Ingles’ lot.
One of the key new features of the site plan – and a major sticking point for every board and commission the plan has come before – is a redesigned parking lot. The company’s new plan includes a plethora of trees to spruce up what is currently a treeless asphalt slab. Medians and other traffic-calming devices will also bring an element of organization to the lot which, in its present state, is a free-for-all governed only vaguely by painted guides.
Planning Director Paul Benson said that the application isn’t too far outside the city’s current ordinances, or even a far cry from what the proposed new ordinances are shaping up to be.
“I think they’re doing a pretty good effort there,” said Benson. “For a renovation of an existing site, it sure goes a long way toward meeting the ordinance.”
Ingles CFO Ron Freeman said they were happy with the process, which took just under three months to get through the town’s system.
“We are pleased with the Board of Aldermen’s decision,” said Freeman. “We are looking forward to bringing a better shopping experience to our customers in Waynesville.”