Atmore Food Fair sold

Published 8:14 am Wednesday, May 4, 2005

By By Lee Weyhrich
Atmore Food Fair underwent some major changes Tuesday evening in the form of a sale.
As in a chess game, BI-LO, LLC, parent company of BI-LO, LLC and Bruno's Supermarkets Inc. made its final move in its long-term growth strategy, which is directed at strengthening competitive position in core markets. The newly transformed company is aiming to become the leading independent food retailer in the Southeast.
All involved in the growth strategy are confident that the new move is a guaranteed checkmate.
The company's strategy is very simple.
BI-LO/Bruno's will focus its efforts and financial resources on 310 stores in core markets across the region. In doing so, the new company will be giving current stores facelifts, constructing new stores, investing in technology and encouraging marketing efforts in these core markets.
President and CEO of BI-LO/Bruno's Dean Cohagan believes the change is a win-win situation for the supermarkets involved and their employees.
"This is an exciting time for BI-LO/Bruno's, our Associates and our customers," Cohagan said in a prepared statement. "After more than a year of planning and development, all of the elements of our long-term strategy are now underway. By increasing the efficiency of our business and making strategic reinvestments in our core markets, we will be well-positioned to succeed and thrive in the fast-growing Southeast marketplace."
In January the Company made the big decision to sell its warehouse facilities and moved its distribution and replenishment functions to C&S Wholesale Grocers, Inc., one of the nation's leading distribution companies. The decision allows BI-LO/Bruno's to free up capital for reinvestment in its stores, while also enabling the company to focus on operating supermarkets.
The Company also announced in January that it would consolidate corporate support functions, such as marketing, accounting and human resources, in Mauldin, S.C., as well as integrate the separate information technology systems at BI-LO and Bruno's onto one common IT platform. According to a statement released Tuesday, the goal of these programs, which are currently being implemented, is to avoid duplication of effort and eliminate redundant computer systems, while reducing costs and improving efficiency throughout the entire organization. Both the consolidation and integration efforts are on track and are scheduled for completion in the third quarter of this year.
The downside is Atmore's Food Fair store is not a part of the core focus portion of BI-LO/Bruno's plan.
As part of the company's strategy, it also announced Tuesday that Southern Family Markets Acquisition (SFMA), LLC, an affiliate of C&S, has agreed to purchase 104 of the current BI-LO and Bruno's stores, Atmore's Food Fair being one of them.
Atmore Mayor Howard Shell said he has anticipated the sell.
"Back several weeks ago, they had already begun to liquidate some of their stores and one or two of them in Baldwin County were part of the first ones to be affected and we kind of anticipated that our store could be one of the ones sold to another grocery chain and we're really glad it was. We were sincerely hoping that we would be sold to another grocery chain since we have a really good market in Atmore for a store of this size and are pleased that it happened. We feel like we have a good Food Fair and a good delighted to welcome the new owners to Atmore."
Cohagan said a thorough review of the stores and the markets was conducted in order to determine which stores were to be kept in the company or sold.
"We have decided to focus on the markets in which we currently have the No. 1 or No. 2 position or can reach that position in a reasonable period of time – or in markets where we see significant growth potential," Cohagan said. "Our new company is building on a strong foundation, supported by a talented team and by brands our customers trust and admire. By implementing this plan we will be in a position to grow in our core markets."
The stores sold to SFMA will be divested in a series of transactions to be executed over the course of the next 11 months.
In addition to the 104 stores that are part of the SFMA agreement, BI-LO/Bruno's will seek to market and sell an additional nine stores on its own and will close three stores, which include the Adamsville, Ala. store, the Russellville, Ala. store and the Panama City, Fla. store.
"It is always a difficult decision to divest stores, but we must make some tough choices to ensure that we invest our valuable resources in the most prudent way possible and focus on our core markets," Cohagan said. "The stores we're divesting are good stores that don't fit our core market strategy. Under new ownership they have the potential to grow and continue serving customers. We appreciate the contributions of our Associates who have served our customers and supported our stores in these locations through the years, and will work hard to ensure a positive future for them."
According to BI-LO/Bruno's release, each of the 113 stores to be divested will continue to be operated by BI-LO/Bruno's under normal business procedures until its ownership is transferred to Southern Family Markets or to other parties.
The good news for Atmore, which already has several empty storefronts including half of its old K-Mart facility, is that both parties noted that their objective is that these stores continue operating as supermarkets. Food Fair is located in the same shopping plaza on Lindberg Ave. as the old K-Mart building lies vacant.
As for the employees of Atmore Food Fair, BI-LO/Bruno's is pleased that SFMA plans to operate the majority of the stores and will offer positions to all the associates working in those stores at the time the ownership changes.
"That's great because it means a lot to the people that have been employed for a long time that they don't have to make the switch and start looking for a new job," Shell said.
According to the release, for any stores that Southern Family Markets may designate for purchase by a third-party, it has agreed to negotiate purchase agreements that provide that the new owners offer positions to all of the Associates working in these stores at the time the ownership changes. For the nine stores that BI-LO/Bruno's intends to divest on its own, the company will seek to negotiate similar employment terms with the new owners. In the three stores to be closed, Associates will receive all benefits to which they are entitled.
"Through the store purchase we look forward to building on the success of our prior distribution agreement with BI-LO/Bruno's and further strengthening our presence in the Southeast," C&S and Southern Family Markets CEO Rick Cohen said. "This new agreement will allow us to strategically integrate the wholesale and retail aspects of the purchased stores and grow sales."
Brewton's Food Fair store was also part of the companies sell to SFMA.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox