And Tops is a chameleon when it comes to competition.
“We’re a high-low operator as far as price strategy,” he says. “Our two biggest competitors are everyday-low-price operators.”
On a drive through the Buffalo area, I saw Tops stores head-to-head with everyone from Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans to Battavia, Ill.-based deep discounter Aldi Inc.
“We have all different size footprints,” Wright says. “What you’ll see in Tops is a great range. We don’t really have a one-size-fits-all format. That really encourages our store teams to be their own entrepreneurs, and that comes from our company president and chief executive officer, Frank Curci.”
In produce, Tops works to differentiate itself through strong vendor relationships and innovative programs.
In-store, that means produce is up front, and consumers find something they’d not see elsewhere.
“We’re really focused on freshness right as you walk in the store. We hit them right off the bat with what we call a ‘Hot Spot,’” Wright says. “This is our best price points and our unique items.”
In late August, it was an exclusive deal with Delano, Calif.-based Pandol Bros.’ Sweet Celebration grapes.
Wright is aggressive in his ad strategy as well. In any given week, you will find Tops really pushing produce. A recent example included a 10 items for $10, with the 11th item free, where consumers could mix or match more than 20 different items, from bagged salads to bulk artichokes and even mini bananas.
“This was a great program for us,” Wright says. “It’s what I’m all about — if I can get $10 in people’s carts, it’s a great example of being all about driving consumption. We’re really not afraid to try new things.”
Tom Brown, vice president of sales for Savage, Md.-based East Coast Fresh Cuts, says he noticed a shift at Tops shortly after Wright joined the company.
“I was amazed at the changes I saw in merchandising strategy and presentation,” Brown says. “The produce department was fresh, appealing and screaming value throughout. There are a lot of great people on the produce team at Tops, and a great leader can make great things happen. Steve is a great leader.”
Wright always wants to drive volume along with dollars, and he does it through engaging his vendor partners, says John Caragliano, regional manager for Chiquita Brands International Inc.