In U.S., Lidl Flexibility is Key
By looking at customers’ broader needs and making changes — sometimes radical changes — to its plans, Lidl has moved forward with its expansion in the United States even as it operates more than 11,000 stores worldwide from a headquarters in Neckarsulm, near Stuttgart, Germany.
The company initially planned to build stand-alone stores at the edges of urban areas, but shortly after an initial store launch in 2017, it paused to reevaluate business, then began to lease space in more heavily urbanized areas, including, in late 2018, the borough of Staten Island in New York City. It continues to open newly constructed buildings as well as leased and remodeled stores today.
Just weeks before the Staten Island store opening, Lidl announced that it had purchased the 27-store Best Market chain, which primarily operated across Long Island. It began converting the existing Best Markets into Lidl operations, opening up its first two stores there in late 2019. Lidl has continued opening stores in converted former Best Market locations, including one in Merrick, NY, just weeks ago.
Not long after, it opened a stand-alone store with an updated configuration in Manassas, VA, not too far from the company’s American headquarters in Arlington, where it has operated since the company began organizing its U.S. business in 2015. The new 18,000 square foot Manassas Lidl store complements an existing 20,000 square foot unit across town.
As its stores have evolved, so has merchandising, in part to make display prototypes more flexible and suited to new and varied store configurations. It did so, says Stefan Schwarz, Lidl US executive vice president of purchasing, taking into consideration feedback and other customer information. For example, produce departments have become more vertical in display, with signage that calls out growers who supply the chain.
The company has also become more flexible in how it configures its stores. Even when it opened the Staten Island store, Lidl looked for spaces where it could recreate its typical linear layout. Today, the company doesn’t hold fast to the original arrangement. For example, in a stand-alone store such as the new Manassas location, Lidl juxtaposes produce displays to create a small, unique produce department traffic pattern alongside the bakery.
Although the link between the bakery and produce remains important, Lidl is willing to be flexible. In the former Merrick Best Market, the produce department is more linear but the floral display is where the bakery might typically reside. The store is 21,000 square feet, but the configuration just wouldn’t support the usual produce/bakery link. Rather, the bakery operates beyond produce and past a number of chill cases and grocery displays, including chocolates, at the rear of the store.
In the Merrick store, produce is linked to the slicing deli, an operation that was pioneered specifically for Long Island based on consumer research and the priority consumers in the region place on freshly processed cold cuts. The slicing deli has since appeared elsewhere, including in the Manassas store.
With its more flexible approach, Lidl continues to grow. Although it had opened its new Manassas store April 21, it already had scheduled its next store opening for May 12 in Sterling, VA.