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Piggly Wiggly makes its way to West Virginia

By Caitlin Cook, Staff writer
KENNY KEMP | Sunday Gazette-Mail
Steve Johnson (left) and his son, Adam Johnson, own the Piggly Wiggly store in Milton. The Johnsons chose to become Piggly Wiggly’s first store in West Virginia last year.
KENNY KEMP | Sunday Gazette-Mail Steve Johnson decided to change his Milton grocery store from a Foodland to a Piggly Wiggly to be more competitive.
KENNY KEMP | Sunday Gazette-Mail Paula Lively restocks the fresh bread in the store’s deli-bakery area. She has been employed there 19 years.
KENNY KEMP | Sunday Gazette-Mail Piggly Wiggly T-shirts are a big seller at the store, the owners say.

Steve Johnson thought his Milton grocery store needed an edge. So last year, his store changed from Foodland to West Virginia’s first Piggly Wiggly.

Since then, the grocery chain known for its meat departments and colorful pig-related attire has expanded its footprint into the Mountain State, opening three more stores.

“We just felt it was more of a competitive situation for us,” Johnson said. “The selection was a lot better.”

Johnson looked at several other franchise options, but decided on Piggly Wiggly after a presentation on what the chain could offer by company representatives.

“They brought their people in and did a walk through in our store to make sure we fit into their model,”

He admitted being a bit hesitant about how people in West Virginia would accept the store.

Johnson said the store chain, founded in Tennessee, is well known throughout the South. There are more than 600 Piggly Wiggly stores in 17 states.

The four West Virginia stores are in Milton, Hico, Hamlin and Clay.

“We have expanded our perimeter,” said Piggly Wiggly vice president of sales John Matlock. “The next logical step was to move a bit farther north into West Virginia.”

When moving into a new region, Matlock said, it’s about making customers aware of the stores. It’s up to each individual owner on what advertising they want to pursue.

“The key is to get customers in the store and let them see what you have to offer,” Matlock said. “The is no real magic thing to do to get somebody to come into the store.”

David Luechauer, professor and holder of the Cecil I. Walker Chair of Management at the University of Charleston’s Graduate School of Business, said some brands, products and stores that are well known in some regions don’t automatically translate to others.

“Just because you have a cool product or something that fits your region or niche really, really well, it doesn’t mean everyone is going to want it,” Luechauer said. “That’s why there is a lot of trepidation and companies spend a lot of money to figure this out.”

He said some companies may be the opposite - so well known that areas are waiting for that company to move into the region and they do really well. Luechauer said Starbucks would be a good example of a well known brand with a product well received in many regions.

The company does not have any applications for new Piggly Wiggly stores in West Virginia right now, Matlock said.

“Naturally we want to expand more in West Virginia,” he said. “We are always looking for aggressive, independent stores.”

Each Piggly Wiggly is now independently owned instead of being a franchisee.

“The licensing is less restrictive, less regulations,” Matlock said. “We still require stores to maintain certain standards but it’s not as in-depth and detailed as a franchise would be.”

In 2003, C&S Wholesale Grocers Inc. assumed ownership of Piggly Wiggly. Matlock said being owned by a private company removes a lot of red tape.

“When you deal with a private company you don’t have to satisfy shareholders or a board of directors,” Matlock said. “Decisions can be made a lot more quickly or the way you’d like to see the company go.”

The company looks for existing, independent grocery stores that are clean, fully stocked, competitively priced, friendly staffed, with strong meat, deli and produce sections and excellent customer service to convert into Piggly Wiggly stores.

“We just want to offer exceptional service with friendly employees,” Matlock said. “We want to be competitively priced and fully stocked.”

Matlock added each owner may request what kind of Piggly Wiggly merchandise to carry in-stores. There are t-shirts, hats and koozies bearing the Piggly Wiggly pig to choose from at stores. Owners also select what products to carry in stores and where they buy items like produce from.

“Pricing is almost less on about everything,” Johnson said. “Our customers are really excited about that.”

Johnson said Piggly Wiggly carries a tremendous private line with for customers. Almost everything to buy in the store has a Piggly Wiggly product line item at a cheaper price, he added.

He is most excited about the meat department and its offerings.

“Piggly Wiggly is kind of known for their meat department,” Johnson said.

The new “pick five” deal has been a big seller. The deal lets customers select five fresh frozen meats for $19.99.

Johnson said he has also been able to give customers more of what they want with the expanded offers in the deli and bakery departments.

“We were kind of surprised of how well customers received [the change],” Johnson said. “It’s really worked out well.”

Reach Caitlin Cook at caitlin.cook@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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