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Tom Thumb: portrait of a master combo store operator.

When Dallas-based Tom Thumb Super Markets found the competition heating up the local Texas sage back in the early '70s, it responded by cautiously venturing into the combination store concept. Little did the chain realize just how viable an alternative this type of format would become over the next decade.

Today, the 58-unit flagship division of the $1 billion Cullum Cos. operates 26 of these combo stores and, under the astute leadership of President J.T. Hairston Jr., is widely regarded as one of the industry's pre-eminent combo store operators. Behind its success: an ability to consistently convey an image of top-flight service, broad product variety and eat-off-the-floors cleanliness, factors which enabled the chain last year to surpass Safeway as Dallas' market leader.

The main thrust behind Tom Thumb's rapid market ascension and aggressive expansion is its food and drug center format, the most recent of which was opened last fall in the fast-growing city of Tyler, teax. Early this year, the cain will begin its long-awaited advance on Fort Worth when it begins construction of a similar 54,000-square-foot combo unit in Irving.

In the newer, larger prototype, the one-stop shopping concept has been enhanced even further. Identified as an upscale operation with a strong following of young shoppers with healthy disposable incomes, the latest store model comes complete with: a full-service meat and seafood counter and live lobster tank; a nutrition center; a service deli featuring prepared foods for take-out or to eat in the restaurant-like dining area; an imported and domestic cheese service island; a service bakery; a floral and green plants department; a fully stocked and manned pharmacy; and a cosmetics section carrying name brand and designer products and managed by a cosmetician. In addition, a service department houses the standard accoutrements as well as high-ticket color televisions and electronic equipment. And in the event customers run short on cash, there's an automatic teller machine that allows them to withdraw funds from either checking or savings accounts.

While Dallas has yet to develop a strong attraction for warehouse stores, the aggressive posture adopted by such formidable competitors as Kroger, Skaggs and Safeway has created a face-off.

Admittedly non-competitive on price in the past, Tom Thumb has measurably strengthened its pricing position in the market, underlined by its Budget Buy program. Each week the chain passes on the savings in manufacturer allowances on 1,000 items. The slack in the margins, however, is picked up in the specialty departments and in the extensive nonfoods sections. The stores carry broad lines of housewares, hardware, automotive and seasonal merchandise, greeting cards, and books and magazines.

Like most superstore designs, Tom Thumb uses the perimeter for its service and perishables departments and bisects the store with 1,100 running feet of frozen foods. an ambitious use of colors sets off each specialty department, giving the store an exciting multi-dimensional effect.

Management is convinced that the consumer is in the midst of a tremendous upgrading of quality and is tailoring its product mix and merchandising programs to reflect this. Tom Thumb is backing this up with an ongoing emphasis on national brands and concentrating on maintaining a high level of service.

While the competition is hardly packing up and leaving town, there's no question that Tom Thumb's leadership in the Dallas market is not being threatened. Not as long as it continues to consistently meet the demands of its shoppers, while providing an environment that's appealing in price, selection and service.
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Title Annotation:Dallas based chain
Author:Schaeffer, Larry
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Date:Mar 1, 1984
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