Riverside, San Bernardino: Local chains corner market in the Inland Empire
Its roots may be in agriculture, but today the Inland Empire of California — which includes Riverside and San Bernardino counties — is more known for its industrial development. The Inland Empire is a major distribution hub for Southern California due to its proximity to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Its vast warehouse complexes house fulfillment and logistics centers for the likes of Amazon, Georgia Pacific and others.
While it may be near Los Angeles and the high-rent district of Orange County, the Inland Empire could not be more opposite in terms of per capita earnings. Low- and middle-income families dominate the area due to its affordable housing. As the coastal communities become too expensive for many to live, more people are moving inland.
The Inland Empire was among the regions hardest hit by the recession in California, but it has since added back jobs at a pace exceeded only by the flourishing tech hubs in San Francisco and Santa Clara.
However, the region is not without its issues. Its poverty rate is exceptionally high by national standards. Both counties were rated as having poor air quality and were given an “F” by the American Lung Association recently, and traffic also is a serious issue.
The retail landscape has been in a transition, as well. Some companies such as Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons have been closing stores, while others, including Stater Bros., have been expanding their presence in the area with a number of new store openings planned. Headquartered in San Bernardino, Stater Bros. has been around for more than 80 years. It has been named by Forbes as one of top 20 com-panies in the United States to offer exceptional job security for its employees and has been rated as the “best place to shop for groceries” among full-service supermarket chains in Southern California.
Deeply entrenched in the community, the chain believes in giving back. In the past 10 years, it has contributed more than $75 million in food and funds to local organizations that support hunger relief, children’s well-being, education, health, and help for veterans and active service members.
Its Mission Grove store opened in the fall of 2017, in a space previously occupied by Ralphs market. Focusing on service, Stater Bros. did not shy away from offering employee-manned, service-oriented departments, which include freshly made sushi and a fresh fruit bar in the 45,000-sq.-ft. store. The bakery and butcher sections are generously stocked, with a large array of artisanal breads and marinated cuts. There’s also a nice selection of organic and international foods that shoppers rave about.
Within this market, Albertsons often gets cited by shoppers for its terrific in-store bakery, clean stores and customer service, but it’s no-frills WinCo that customers love for its low prices, convenient hours, weekly deals and bulk food section.
Another standout retailer in the region is Spouts Farmers Market, with one of its newest locations in Redlands touted by customers for its cleanliness, large selection of farm fresh produce, organic products, distinct ready-to-eat meals, vast bulk food section and sushi station.
Others cite the butcher shop and fish market and fresh seafood that’s delivered up to six days a week.
It also earns high marks for its customer service and friendly, helpful employees. Indeed, Sprouts officials take customer service more seriously than most, and their goal is to hire passionate people and invest in their training. The importance they place on having team members who are knowledgeable and approachable has not gone unnoticed by shoppers.
Phoenix: Retailers focus on experience as city resurges
It is important to city officials that Phoenix never loses sight of its original intent — to be a city that welcomes everyone and respects everyone, with an economy that creates real opportunity for everyone.
Since the mid 20th century, Phoenix’s goal has been to expand its population, and it appears to have achieved that. It is currently ranked the fifth-most-populous city in the United States behind New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston. This, in stark contrast to the mid-1950s, when Phoenix’s nickname was America’s Eden for its vast open spaces.
Flash forward to present day and a time where much has changed in the region, both physically and economically. City officials have been diligently working to rebuild the city’s economy, an effort that has not gone unnoticed. Phoenix has been earning kudos for its efforts to stabilize its economy and for its sustainability progress.
For its citizens, life in Phoenix has been improving, as well. Unemployment rates are down and average wages are up. The proliferation of high-tech jobs helped Phoenix become one of the nation’s top-10 fastest-growing economies in 2017. In addition to technology, more than half of its workers are employed in advanced industries, such as business and financial services, health and life sciences and precision manufacturing.
Phoenix continues to attract a large number of new businesses, which in turn are creating new job opportunities for area residents. Its economy also is being boosted by Phoenix’s trade relationship with Mexico, which estimates show to be an $8 billion business venture for the city.
By some estimates, retail also is helping to boost the local economy. More than a quarter of a million people work in the retail sector in the greater Phoenix area, making it one of the top-three industries for employment. At the same time, the landscape of retail is changing, and the makeup of all those once-famous power centers the Phoenix market had become known for is changing face. Today, it is becoming more common to see owners chop up vacant big-box space and put in two 20,000-sq.-ft. anchors, or develop empty parking lots into space for fast-casual restaurants.
Grocers have been leading the new construction wave with several Fry’s Marketplaces opening in the past year, including the first-ever grocery store in downtown Phoenix, as well as Sprouts Farmers Markets. Given the steady job and wage growth, as well as a strengthened housing market in the area, experts predict the momentum in retail will continue and extend beyond 2018.
Fry’s Marketplace on East Shea boulevard knows service. The retailer offers valet parking, covered parking and complimentary curbside pickup, plus its staff routinely is noted by shoppers as being helpful and friendly. Customers also appreciate the retailer’s large kosher section, in-store café, large assortment of prepared foods, garden center, cooking school and car wash. This upscale Kroger banner is in many ways an exact opposite of another area favorite — Trader’s Joes, the closest of which is just a few doors down. Its staff also is often cited for being friendly and knowledgeable, and its floral section earns points with shoppers for its deals. But its signature move of constantly refreshing its shelves with new products for shoppers to try is what makes this retailer stand taller than its competitors.
Shoppers also appreciate the assortment of healthy food choices, but it’s the products sold under the Trader Joe’s label — representing hard-to-find, innovative products at a value — that keep customers coming back.
Bay Area retailers innovate around Silicon Valley
Home to the famed Golden Gate Bridge, the other thing the City by the Bay is known for these days is its soaring cost of housing. Alongside Washington, D.C., and New York City, the Bay Area is one of the most expensive cities to live in the United States.
While low unemployment and robust job growth are pluses, a cost of living 64% above the national average makes the area unaffordable to live in, even when the average median household income is above $75,000.
The region encompasses such metro areas as San Francisco; Oakland, the 12th largest metro area in the country; and San Jose, the 31st-largest city in the country, along with smaller urban and rural areas. Some 7.4 million people live in the nine counties, 101 cities and 7,000 square miles that comprise the Bay Area.
The San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward metro area’s economy is growing significantly faster than any of the top-10 metro areas in the nation, and part of its success is directly connected to growth in the technology sector. Silicon Valley — the center of the technology industry — is located in the Bay Area. Companies such as Google, eBay, Apple and Facebook have headquarters here.
The city is a renowned hub for the incubation and development of emerging markets, but IT is not the only industry thriving here. Some 30 international financial institutions are located here as are a number of social and digital media, life sciences and biotech, environmental and clean tech, professional services and international businesses.
As would be expected in this area, retailers are often more progressive here than in other parts of the country, partly by choice and partly due to necessity. For this hipster, educated, affluent demographic, cookie-cutter approaches won’t suffice. As a result, several area retailers have added experiential components in their stores, a move they admit has been helpful in combatting declining sales. With an emphasis on entertainment and socialization, a number of retailers are adding bars, theaters, gaming and recreational areas in their locations. Nordstrom in San Jose has a bar and Whole Foods features a beer garden on its upper floor. Bass Pro Shop decided to add a bowling alley for its customers to use.
Given this, it also is no surprise that an eclectic combination of food retailers dot the landscape in the San Francisco-metro market. While shoppers will find such expected options as Safeway, Trader Joe’s and multiple Whole Foods Markets, a number of smaller grocers are thriving here as well. One particular standout is Mollie Stone’s. Since 1986, this family-owned business has offered “the best of both worlds” — conventional groceries, as well as natural and organic food, much of which is locally sourced.
This is a retailer that is not afraid to adapt or take risks. It became the first retailer in the San Francisco Bay Area to integrate a complete, full-service hardware store into the overall layout of its grocery departments. The new Mollie’s Ace Hardware is a one-stop shop for easy access to home improvement items.
Its San Mateo location offers Mollieland, a free supervised play area for children to hang out, while their parents shop. And in its Pacific Heights and Castro locations, customers can hop on the Mollie Bus. Recognizing how many city dwellers hate to give up their parking spots to run errands, the retailer came up with the idea of offering a free shuttle for shoppers, and customers love it.