Kroger's big investment in Richmond

By Matt Butner - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT)- Kroger is making a big move on the Richmond grocery market. The chain operates 16 stores in the area, with plans underway for a 17th. The company is in the midst of an 81-million-dollar effort to expand and improve its stores here.

Ask Karen Hastings what she looks for in a grocery store, and she doesn't hesitate.

"Price and customer service- how you're treated as a customer," said Hastings.

She says the Kroger off Route 301 in Hanover fits the bill.

"Great customer service here, been treating us really nice. I do a lot of couponing, and they have awesome deals with coupons," she said.

Manager Jeff Malcomb says price is out of his hands, but friendly service is something he can control.

"I get more compliments than complaints, which is a great testament to what my folks are doing," Malcomb said.

A focus on customer service was one reason for the success of Ukrop's- one of its signatures was store-to-car grocery delivery, something Kroger started doing last year. It may be small touches like this that will help Kroger pick up some of the Ukrop's faithful.

But Martin's won't give up those customers without a fight. Neither will Food Lion, the current market leader. One thing is clear to Malcomb- shoppers will benefit from the battle.

"If the guy down the street is doing a good job at something, and we can do it better- who wins? It's the customer that always wins in these situations," Malcomb said.

Kroger's current $81-million effort is focused on renovating stores, adding fuel centers, and moving the Short Pump store to a brand new building. Construction on a new location at the former Cloverleaf Mall site is set to begin later this year.

The real challenge will be to fill those stores with customers.

"At the end of the day, I want to feel comfortable where I'm shopping, and I feel like family coming up in here," said John Shinholser, who frequents the Hanover Kroger.

Copyright 2010 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.