Tops Friendly Markets is becoming Tops Remodeled Markets.
The Williamsville-based grocer is making a significant investment to modernize its 149 locations, with refurbishing already complete at 31 stores in Western New York, including Greece, Hamlin, Canandaigua, Avon and on Upper Falls Boulevard in the city of Rochester.
Most Tops stores are decades old, and while still quite functional, their age is evident. Each remodeling effort — both inside the store and on the façade — essentially has created a new store.
“It’s integral to bringing in more customers and giving people what they want,” Tops president John Persons said.
Plans for renovation were set into motion about five years ago, when the management team toured various store brands across the country to sample what other retailers were doing.
“We wanted to see what our remodel should look like,” Persons said.
They decided the décor and colors needed to match modern tastes. The signage on the walls is large and vibrant. Gone is the waxed-and-buffed-a-million-times flooring, replaced with a darker tile look. LED lighting is more appealing than the old fluorescent lights.
“This is a total floor to ceiling remodel,” Persons said. “People want an updated, comfortable look. In the past, the stores were whiter and a little more sterile.”
Those older stores also were a little more compact. But just as the loft apartment puts an emphasis on an open floor plan, the Tops grocery store now has a bit of that same feel. New cases and new shelving provide for a larger product inventory along the walls, which has opened up the produce, deli and bakery departments.
There’s also more of an emphasis on fresh.
“Canned goods, boxed goods, they’re still very important, but people are buying more fresh items,” Persons said. “We have considerably more produce variety than we had before.”
Shoppers will see similar differences in prepared foods, and the seafood and meat department.
What hasn’t changed is a commitment to variety. Whereas Wegmans may offer one national brand and their own label of a specific canned fruit or sauce, Tops often provides shelf space to three or four national brands, plus their own label.
“We compete in Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse with two great companies, Walmart and Wegmans,” Persons said. “They both have great private brands. We have a great private brand, but we like to complement that. We’ll have Kraft shredded cheese, Sargento shredded cheese and our own brand.”
The reason: customers like choices, and customers also like certain brands. So while the stores look nice, shoppers may not return as often if they can’t buy what they want.
“If you talk with anybody, they all have items they prefer,” Persons said.
Thus, you’ll find Heinz, Hunt’s, Full Circle and Tops labels of ketchup. You want a choice of canned peas? There’s Del Monte, Libby’s Le Sueur, Full Circle and Tops. There are at least a dozen different brands of bread.
A team of category managers works to ensure stores carry what customers want, Persons said.
Choices go beyond just groceries, however. A Starbucks kiosk was added to the store in Greece, and it’s front-and-center when shoppers enter. The service desk continues to offer Western Union bill pay and accept utility bill payments. That’s all part of providing as much convenience as possible, Persons said.
The remodels haven’t been cheap. Tops spent $2.8 million to recreate the Greece store at Mount Read Boulevard and Maiden Lane. The investment in Canandaigua was $1.8 million. So far, the remodeling initiative has cost more than $120 million, according to The Shelby Report, a publication focused solely on the grocery industry.
But in-store traffic has increased as well.
“We couldn’t be more excited about the performance of the Greece store,” Persons said. “And it’s not just the physical investment in the store, it’s the whole process around it, how we engage in the community. We endeavor to be good neighbors.”
The grocer works with various organizations throughout the year, from food drives that benefit Foodlink to bell-ringers for The Salvation Army each holiday season. The company donated more than $7 million last year through its Neighbors Helping Neighbors program in New York, northern Pennsylvania and Vermont.
Tops merged with Price Chopper/Market 32 in 2021 but remains a separate entity under the Northeast Grocery umbrella. Combined, the two stores ranked 44th nationwide among food retailers in 2021, according to Progressive Grocer. Wegmans ranked 34th. The rankings for 2022 have not been published.
The merger provided the two grocers with greater scale, enabling Tops and Price Chopper to leverage the combined strength of a larger company. By collectively working with manufacturers, Tops can maintain a consistent promotional strategy with products for all of its stores, Persons said.
“We have larger stores like the one in Greece and we have stores half that size, or less, in Ontario and Dansville,” he said, “but we’re essentially able to operate the same in a rural community as we are in a dense metropolitan area.”
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