(Hamilton Journal News (OH) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 03--LIBERTY TWP -- Kroger is removing some furniture and home decor items from its Marketplace locations, but restocking them with clothing and shoes for men, women and children.
The 108,000-square-foot Kroger that opened in 2006 in Liberty Twp. was the first "marketplace" location constructed in the region. Now it will be the first southwest Ohio Marketplace location to undergo the change, which should be entirely in place by early September, company officials said.
The merchandise will be prominently displayed toward the front left of the store in place of various toiletries, children's toys and seasonal items that are being moved to the back left corner of the store.
The addition of clothing could help boost the fortunes of Kroger, which maintained its ranking this year as fifth largest retail chain in the world and third in the United States, according to a 2014 Global Powers of Retailing report. Of its U.S. competition, it only trails Walmart and Costco.
Dawn Bailey, who bought one or two pieces of furniture at Kroger Marketplace since it opened in 2006, said she was intrigued by the prospect of shopping for clothing at Kroger.
I don't know what to expect from it but I think it's a change and it's exciting," Bailey said. "People ... will come to look to see what they have clothing-wise."
Mindy Barnes said she would continue to shop Kroger for groceries but "probably wouldn't purchase clothing" there.
"I like the idea that it's Kroger and not a Walmart," she said "Walmart I associate with the clothing and stuff like that."
Susan Smith of Dayton said she would shop for clothing at Kroger but that's dependent on what brands are in stock and if it meets her standards.
"I would want to make sure it's a quality that I would normally buy," Smith said.
Kroger spokeswoman Rachael Betzler said the chain has buying power from its Fred Meyer locations and is able to get well-known name brands like Carhartt, Champion, Fila and Skechers.
"It's been successful in the three stores that we launched last year," she said. "That was Amelia, Florence and Independence."
Middletown and Lebanon marketplace locations are expected to start construction at the end of August to include the new apparel offerings, Betzler said.
The first Kroger banner store to carry apparel was a Marketplace location in Mansfield starting in September 2012, according to spokesman Keith Dailey, who said customer acceptance at that location and the locations that have followed has been "terrific."
Stocking the shelves with clothing is a response to customer demand, not an effort to keep up with other stores that offer clothing, food and other items, Dailey said.
"We learned long ago that focusing on our customers, rather than our competitors, makes us a better and more responsive merchant," he said.
Terrie Ellerbee, associate editor of grocery trade publication The Shelby Report, said the clothing at a recently opened Kroger Marketplace in Gainesville, Ga., is "good, basic clothing" and removing furniture and home decor from existing marketplace locations in favor of clothing is a good decision on Kroger's part.
"More people these days are probably buying clothing than furniture just because there seems to continue to be this strange hourglass kind of economy with people at the top doing well," she said. "But people at the bottom are being catered to by Walmart, by dollar stores. This is just another way Kroger can attract people."
Kroger is a pioneer what it comes to adding things that aren't grocery related, Ellerbee said.
While people may view Kroger as more of a grocery-centric store now, and less of a hybrid like Walmart or Meijer, it won't be much of a hurdle for the 131-year-old Cincinnati-based company to leap when it comes to selling clothing, she said.
"I think it's already there," Ellerbee said. "Grocery stores have, for a long time, carried just a catalog of products and they continue to add. Over the years they've added delis, bakeries, cake decorating stations and sushi stations. They're going to add whatever they can not only to get you into the store, but to get you to stay in the store ... and maybe you'll buy more. They also want to offer the convenience of that one-stop shopping."
Adding clothing is nothing new for Kroger, she said. The company's Fred Meyer division in the Pacific Northwest, which came to Kroger as part of a merger, has long offered the Marketplace model by selling electronics, clothes and jewelry next to groceries.
Dailey said of the Kroger operates 2,640 stores nationwide, 96 follow the Marketplace model, which he called "an evolving format."
"We listen closely and value customer feedback and these changes are intended to better serve their needs," he said. "Customers have told us that they prefer an expansive apparel offering to furniture."
Even with the stores emphasizing clothing in the new Marketplace model, furniture and expanded home décor items will continue to be offered in those locations on a seasonal and promotional basis, Dailey said.
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