Small-Town Charmer: Boscov’s Bucks Trend Of Regional Meltdown

WYOMISSING, Pa. — For Boscov’s, thinking out of the box means putting more into it. Like homemade fudge at $4 a pound, $14 neck...

Still, as Boscov explained, it’s not as markdown manic as other stores."We are aggressive, but we try to give value every day. But if something comes in overpriced, we will put it on sale."

Burton C. Krieger, Boscov’s president and chief merchandising officer, said that at the Wyomissing store, a former Strawbridge unit that did $12 million in annual sales, "we’ll do $30 million in this building," which was converted to Boscov’s last fall. "We think we have an alternative. We are the branded value alternative and we get closer to the customer. Fifty percent of the store manager’s job is to be involved in the community, and our secret weapon is our relationships with the market."

For the future, Boscov’s plans steady, realistic growth consistent with its past gradual expansion, which has involved cherry-picking other regionals, including the defunct Stern’s and Hess’ and some former Strawbridge units. "We haven’t added tremendous debt, so when the economy slows down we can still manage the debt load,." Lakin said. He declined to specify the debt.

With two store openings set for this year, in the fast-growing northern Maryland towns of Westminster, on April 6, and Frederick, in late October, Boscov’s is shooting for $1.3 billion in 2003 sales. In five years, the company envisions 50 stores situated in 10 states. "We are looking at Virginia, Ohio, and southern New England," Lakin said. "We haven’t gobbled up more than we can chew. We average two store openings a year, although sometimes we’ve opened three or four. Our distribution center in Reading can handle another 35 stores."

As a private company, "you don’t have to look at every quarter. Being private allows us to look at the longer term," Lakin explained, although he acknowledged that lenders still want to see progress each season.

And while regional retailers and independently owned stores have been disappearing, Lakin says there’s a clear case for Boscov’s staying independent. "Everybody has their price, but we are not actively soliciting. It wouldn’t help the stock price of any big department store to add a small regional. The rate of return might not be what shareholders are used to, so it may bring down the stock price. All independent operators are somewhat under the radar screen. We are looking to grow [our] formula, which has been successful as a private company.
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