BJ’s Looks to Club Supermarket Competitors

Jul 17, 2009
George Anderson

By George Anderson

As the number three warehouse club chain,
BJ’s Wholesale Club is facing an uphill battle against Sam’s Club and Costco,
its two larger rivals. The same cannot be said of much of its supermarket
store competition and that is where CEO Laura Sen is looking to grab market

“Of all BJ’s competitors, supermarkets represent
the greatest opportunity for taking market share, based on their operational
inefficiencies and much higher retail prices,” she was quoted by Reuters as
she spoke to an Oppenheimer conference audience this week.

Ms. Sen said that a much larger number of
products, more money spent on store interiors and advertising made it hard
for supermarkets to compete with her company on price. She said consumers
could expect to save between 30 to 35 percent shopping in BJ’s compared
to the typical supermarket. Ms. Sen also said that her company’s prices
were typically 20 percent lower than supercenters.

2008, perishables sales outpaced all other categories, with a 12 percent
comp increase,” she said based on a Home Textiles Today report. “[That
trend is] continuing into 2009, with a 12 percent comp
increase in the first quarter.”

BJ’s has also deviated from some of the typical
warehouse club scripts to differentiate in the market. The chain, which
operates 182 clubs in 15 states, offers smaller size products in key categories
in addition to or in place of the club packs sold in Sam’s or Costco. It
also accepts manufacturer coupons, food stamps and all major credit cards.

Questions: Are warehouse clubs a bigger competitive threat to supermarkets
today than they have been in the past? Has BJ’s carved out a sustainable
niche in the market?

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7 Comments on "BJ’s Looks to Club Supermarket Competitors"

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Steve Montgomery
11 years 9 months ago

BJ’s strategy of offering smaller pack sizes (especially in perishables) is allowing it to overcome one of the major hurdles that prevent further penetration of the warehouse clubs into the supermarket space. The larger pack sizes works well for items for pantry loading but not for limited shelf life items or smaller families.

As people seek greater value the clubs have a stronger appeal. People who would not have previously purchased food items in the clubs are now bragging about how good the products are and what a savings they represent. The smaller sizes opens this to more and more people.

As BJ’s gains success Costco and Sam’s are likely to try similar practices. Assuming they are as successful, then they too will take more share from traditional supermarkets.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
11 years 9 months ago

Success will be affected by who the company identifies as their primary consumers. Those who shop at club stores often like purchasing in bulk. Attracting traditional supermarket store consumers would certainly be possible with the smaller size products. Containing costs to offer low prices may be difficult to maintain when expanding to more stores and offering smaller quantities.

Marge Laney
11 years 9 months ago

BJ’s should concentrate on becoming #1 in the warehouse category rather than chasing the supermarket business. There’s a huge opportunity for them from the selection and size of product perspective in their own segment.

As a Sam’s shopper I can tell you that the unexciting sameness of product is pathetic. I shop Sam’s weekly for staples, but shy away from food purchase due to the jumbo sizes and lack of selection. If I could find great prices on reasonably sized products at a warehouse club, I would buy them there and not make the additional trip to Kroger et al.

Warehouse clubs already grab market share from the grocery chains, striving for the number one spot in their category would only increase their share killing two birds with one stone.

Jonathan Marek
11 years 9 months ago

I’m not sure there’s new ground here. At least in the SF Bay Area, Costco does a great job of competing with supermarkets on the basis of their food and beverage offering. I know when I walk into Costco I can get better quality meat, fish, and bread than I can at the local grocery store. Combined with Target for household consumables and the local farmers market, our family’s use of supermarkets is down about 80%–and I think we represent a growing (and valuable) segment.

Gene Detroyer
11 years 9 months ago

The #3 player in any business isn’t going to gain on the leaders by mimicking the leaders’ business model. The structure of the warehouse business model doesn’t leave a lot of room to be different from competition without breaking the model. BJ’s may have found a just enough room within the model to give itself an advantage.

If by offering smaller sizes of grocery products and being more accommodating to the shopper’s norms, they can offer one single trip by a customer eliminating multiple stops, BJ’s wins. No type of retailer is visited more often than a supermarket. By targeting the supermarket shopper, they have targeted attracting an increased number of store visits which in the long run will give them a total business advantage.

Mike Romano
Mike Romano
11 years 9 months ago

I shop and enjoy Costco as a current member. However, my observation and experience being a past BJ’s customer until I moved, is that BJ’s is better connected to their customer in terms of targeted, personalized communications, innovative use of multi-channel marketing channels and and overall more strategic CRM plan.

BJ’s CEO is a driven and proven leader, and I believe is on the right strategic course.

Doug Stephens
Doug Stephens
11 years 9 months ago
The simple answer to the first question is yes. Club and warehouse stores are clearly more of a competitive threat to grocery stores for a couple of reasons. The first is that the consumer is now more conditioned to accept grocery offerings from warehouse stores than ever before and the second is that warehouse stores are simply becoming better grocers. Their grocery selections, department design and merchandising have all improved vastly and it’s difficult to argue with the convenience they offer. However, I’d be careful in painting all grocery stores with the same brush. I believe there will always be room for outstanding grocers who bring an element of fun, passion and pleasure to buying food. It’s a rule that applies to all retail…be small and remarkable or be big and cheap but under no circumstances can you be caught in the middle. The middle is death. As for sustainable competitive advantage, I don’t believe there is such a thing anymore. Technology, competition and consumer preferences change too quickly and constantly to rest on a… Read more »

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