ST. LOUIS — Within a little over a year, Dierbergs Markets Inc. has opened two new stores, and both are departures for the company, said Steve Duello, produce category manager for Chesterfield, Mo.-based Dierbergs.
The first is an upscale market — the first of its kind for the company — in western St. Louis County.
Located in Des Peres Township, the 75,000-square-foot store is the 24th Dierbergs and is among the chain’s biggest. It features an entirely new interior and exterior design, Duello said.
Wider aisles, bigger displays and more samplings and other events are among the innovations at the Des Peres store.
It’s a new concept for Dierbergs, and with it has come growing pains, Duello said. Getting a foothold in that particular area of the metro has been a challenge for Dierbergs, which hasn’t had a big presence there.
“It’s been a steady but slow go,” he said. “The opening was quite a success, then it slowed in the winter. Sales are gradually growing. It takes time.”
Dierbergs also has faced challenges, albeit of a different kind, at its 25th store, at Lake of the Ozarks’ Osage Beach, which opened in April.
“It’s almost like two different stores,” Duello said. “We’re learning on the fly.”
There’s the store of sunny summer weekends, when tourists abound and sales are through the roof, Duello said. When the tourists leave and it’s just the locals, business can be slow.
“We’ve had good weeks and down weeks,” he said.
“You’ll have a day where it’s the busiest of any day we have, and the same week, you’ll have the slowest of any in the chain.”
What doesn’t change, Duello said, is the buzz surrounding the 70,000-square-foot Osage Beach store, Dierbergs’ first outside the St. Louis metro area.
“I’ve been there every week since it opened, and there’s a real excitement level,” he said.
“There’s a balcony in back where you can dine and drink, it has a beautiful view. And people down there are genuinely thrilled to have you there.”
Duello said he’s enjoyed going to the new store, rolling up his sleeves and hitting the floor like he used to do.
“You get down there and you work,” he said. “It’s fun to sell stuff. It’s a nice break from staying up here in your office and pushing buttons.”
The new Des Peres and Osage Beach stores could be it for awhile for Dierbergs, Duello said.
“I think they’re catching their breath a little bit.”
Retail industry strong
The year has been a successful one thus far for retailer William A. Straub, and Greg Lehr, produce category specialist, doesn’t expect that to change.
“Business has been good, and we expect a strong finish,” he said.
“There haven’t been any major catastrophes. Produce is really holding out.”
The St. Louis retail grocery business is thriving, thanks in large part to local support for independents, said Dale Vaccaro, owner of Vaccaro & Sons Produce.
“Most of the independents have been here awhile,” Vaccaro said.
“Customers want to shop the independents. They do everything they can to stay in line with the bigger retailers, but most of it is, ‘I want to shop this little guy.’”
Vaccaro & Sons itself is one of those little guys.
The company has operated its own 2,500 square-foot open-air market, also called Vaccaro & Sons, in St. Charles, Mo., for the past 22 years.
Business is always good there, Vaccaro said.
The St. Louis retail scene has been fairly stable over the past few years, said Steve Wielansksy, partner in Independent Fruit & Produce, another wholesaler on the St. Louis Produce Market.
The landscape is still dominated by Dierbergs and Schnucks, the two big St. Louis-based grocers that “have been around forever,” in Wielansky’s words.
Bigger national players also are on the scene, but they haven’t caused too much disruption.
“Wal-Mart is here, but they haven’t made inroads like they have in other places,” Wielansky said.