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Bigg's the new French import; today Cincinnati, tomorrow ... ?

What would induce 50,000 Cincinnati-area residents to drive 10 miles or more to shop in a four-acre store and then wait in checkout lanes for at least an hour in order to part with $2 million of their hard-earned dollars--all in the space of six days?

The grand opening of Bigg's, the first European style hypermarket to cross the Atlantic.

Spurred on by spectacular grand opening specials and a multi-media advertising campaign that cost in excess of $500,000, eager shoppers made Bigg's opening a roaring success by creating bumper-to-bumper traffic jams that tied up the approaching highways for miles.

Ecstatic executives of Hyper Shoppes, the developer and manager of Bigg's, were convinced that they had delivered on their promise that the store would offer "A new way to shop and a new way to save." Bigg's does this, they say, by applying "True Minimum Pricing" to the more than 60,000 items housed in a 200,000-square-foot setting of wide aisles, imported display fixtures and an aura of a genunine European hypermarket. Prices for the opening were spectacular. Whole fryers went for 39 cents a pound. A dozen grade A eggs cost 49 cents. Name brand margarine was tagged at 48 cents. Live Maine lobsters sold out at $3.99 a pound.

In non-foods the numbers were equally as attractive and so too was the assortment. Hard to find favorities such as miniature toy GoBots, Trivial Pursuit games and Cabbage Patch Dolls were available and were discounted.

As the linchpin of a 350,000-square-foot shopping mall, with 52 stores, 12 of them food shops, Bigg's sports big numbers. The hypermarket has a 2,000-car parking lot, 40 scanning checkstands, 600 employees and 20,000 food items. It also has 40,000 non-foods items, including cosmetics, shoes, clothing, hardware, sporting goods, records, greeting cards, kitchenware, cameras, and electronic equipment.

Jacques LeFoll, executive vice president of operations for Hyper Shoppes, says, "We have combined the best features of the French approach with those of the best American super warehouse stores. Our objective is to offer the lowest prices on every item in the store, everyday."

To American grocers such a hope has an all-too-familiar ring. But the new Cincinnati-based by entity has excellent reasons to be confident. Bigg's lineage is impeccable and its financial backing awesome. Euromarche, the highly successful French chain of 55 hypermarkets, has a 20% share of the enterprise. Lazard Freres, the banking firm, and SMECI, a French real estate investment firm, own 31% each. A few individuals own 8%.

And Bigg's has an invaluable American connection: Super Valu. The world's largest wholesaler--not to mention the aggressive developer of Cub super warehouse stores, the hottest concept in U.S. food retailing--has 10% of the action. Super Valu is Bigg's primary supplier and since the beginning has worked closely with the newcomer on market analysis, site selection, retail support systems, buying, merchandising and advertising. Bigg's was even designed and decorated by two Super Valu subsidiaries.

Said a visiting retailer on opening day, "With Super Valu's knowledge of American mass marketing, Bigg's isn't likely to go overboard on the Continental approach. If Bigg's tries to merchandise like they do at home, however, it will be another battle of the Marne."

Massive purchasing power is a given in a retail store that cost more than $20 million, but Bigg's keeps costs further in check by overlooking few opportunities: About 60% of the non-union workers are part-timers; the store's hours are from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. rather than around the clock; the front end is 100% scanner equipped; prices are not marked on items carrying source-marked UPC symbols; cut cases are used extensively; shoplifting is deterred by the latest electronic article surveillance tags, which can be deactivated at the checkstand; customers bag their own purchases at the split checkstands, which can accommodate two customers at a time; and behind the scenes, a small fleeet of powered equipment moves the merchandise that arrives daily.

Prices may be low, but Bigg's executives boast that merchandise quality is not. Brand names abound, generics are limited (and integrated with regular merchandise) and, indeed, the only look of a warehouse market is evident at the end of the natural flow of shopper traffic in the dry grocery area. Here pallet loads of product are stacked one and two deep over the massed cases of dramatically discounted deal products.

Elsewhere, the store presents an orderly array of merchandise in clean, well-lit surroundings, not dramatically different from many of America's newest combination stores.

But the main question is whether Bigg's will fly, or will it be another Concorde--sleek and fast, but an economic loser operated as a matter of pride?

Gerard Seul, director general of Euromarche and president of Hyper Shoppes, recently said that additional Bigg's locations were being considered. "We are ambitious," he said, adding with a Gallic confidence worthy of Charles de Gaulle, "I can see 100 stores by the year 2,000. Why not?"
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Author:O'Neill, Robert E.
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Date:Dec 1, 1984
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