Citing its location as a key contributor, the owner of Ruby’s Market is closing its lone Queen City spot at 2843 E. Sunshine St. and merging it with a sister Price Cutter.
With disappointing results less than two years after opening, company officials say they’ve revised the Ruby’s model to be folded into other Price Cutter stores rather than as a standalone product. With its motto of “Good Food for All,” the store sought to bring a shopping experience centered on local, fresh and quality foods.
“The biggest miss was the location,” said Erick Taylor, president and CEO of Rogersville-based Pyramid Foods, parent company of Ruby’s and Price Cutter.
Taylor and company opened the 54,000-square-foot Ruby’s on March 15, 2017, in a converted Dillons store. It’s slated to close Dec. 24.
“I’m always sad to see something close,” Taylor said, declining to disclose the customer count or revenue at Ruby’s.
He said overhead at Ruby’s was “a significant amount” but declined to elaborate.
Taylor said a year-plus of analyzing data determined many shoppers who lived far from the store were not willing to drive across town to only purchase a handful of items.
“We realized it went from a primary shopper who gets all from one stop to more of a secondary stop as people would go and get 80 percent of their groceries at our conventional grocery store,” he said.
The remaining 20 percent of groceries would come from Ruby’s, he said, which included natural and organic foods, a kombucha bar and other specialty items.
“It was just out of sight, out of mind,” Taylor added.
Taylor said the Price Cutter three miles south at 3260 E. Battlefield Road already has started to incorporate Ruby’s natural and organic products, with a renovation plan in motion that will conclude in March.
The next couple of years will hold more of the same, he said.
“We hope to have at least two of the first three open by next year,” he said, pointing to the Price Cutter stores at 2021 W. Republic Road and 4228 S. National Ave.
More changes are slated in Nixa, Ozark and Republic, before additional Springfield Price Cutters are included in the Ruby’s rollout plan, he said. The store names will eventually change to either Ruby Price Cutter or Ruby by Price Cutter, Taylor said.
Pyramid Foods plans to sell or lease the Sunshine Street building. He said all 60 of the store’s employees would remain with the company, by transferring to either the Battlefield location or other Price Cutter stores.
Ruby’s faced stiff competition in the local natural foods marketplace.
MaMa Jean’s Natural Food Market LLC has been operating in the Queen City since 2002, and it now has four locations.
Boulder, Colorado-based chain Lucky’s Market entered Springfield within Ruby’s first year in business. The 28,000-square-foot Lucky’s store debuted in January as part of the $10 million Glenstone Marketplace shopping center, 3333 S. Glenstone Ave. It’s one of three in Missouri for the company a fourth Missouri store in Ellisville shuttered in August 2017, according to media reports.
Ben Friedland, Lucky’s vice president of marketing, did not return Springfield Business Journal’s calls seeking comment on the Springfield store’s first year of business.
Nationally, organic product sales are on the rise.
The Organic Trade Association reports organic food market sales nationally reached a record $45.2 billion in 2017, up 6.4 percent from 2016. The OTA began its industry survey in 1997, when organic food sales tallied $3.4 billion.
Organic market growth notwithstanding, Taylor said Pyramid Foods wasn’t able to justify keeping Ruby’s open beyond the 21-month mark.
While Taylor said word of mouth from shoppers was positive, a lack of foot traffic around the store, which was in one of four former Dillons stores Pyramid Foods purchased in 2014, ultimately worked against the company. He said, in hindsight, Ruby’s needed the support of a multitenant shopping center.
A week prior to closing, the natural foods market still had shelves lined with product and showed no signs of a store in its last days of operation.
Taylor said the equipment and cases will be transported to the Price Cutter on Battlefield with the bakery section first to be installed Dec. 26. Other parts of Ruby’s, including its bar area serving beer, wine and kombucha, along with Ruby Jean’s Juicery, will be added in the coming weeks to the 78,000-square-foot Price Cutter as part of the $200,000-$300,000 renovation project. If all new equipment had to be purchased, he said the renovation would likely exceed $1 million.
“We’ve already added about 2,500 items to the store,” Taylor said.
Most of the products will be in place within the next 30 days.
“We put a lot of time, effort and energy into it – and money,” he said of the Ruby’s Market location. “But obviously we still have much of the money we put into it with the equipment, cases, fixtures and all of that. We wanted it to be a successful store.”
Taylor said Pyramid Foods has 45 retail stores in its portfolio, with brands including Price Cutter, Save-A-Lot, Country Mart and Cash Saver. Founded in 1967, the company employs approximately 2,500.
Ruby’s closure plan comes on the heels of a Price Cutter shuttering at the corner of Division Street and Glenstone Avenue at the end of October. Earlier this year, Pyramid Foods sold 10 of its area pharmacy operations for an undisclosed price to Walgreens. Officials say the sale allows the company to focus on food services, such as curbside pickup, online shopping and delivery.
In June 2017, the company closed its downtown Bistro Market, which opened on South Avenue in 2010.
No additional stores are facing closures, Taylor said, although he noted the company’s King Cash Saver location at 1707 W. Battlefield Road is currently undergoing renovations and a name change is possible.
Taylor acknowledged some of the company’s risks haven’t paid off like he hoped, but said those setbacks don’t scare him from taking more in the future.
“If we can deliver a unique experience like Ruby’s or the Bistro Market or something like that in the future, or make our existing stores have that experience, I think it helps all of our city grow,” he said.
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