Rob Rowe: ‘I just do groceries’
by Karen Brune Mathis
Chain expanding again
Supermarket veteran Rob Rowe is giving it another go in Southside and is shopping around town for at least two more sites.
“There’s a need for what we do in that neighborhood and we’ve been asked to come back. What’s why we’re doing it,” Rowe said Wednesday from the Rowe’s IGA Supermarket he plans to open this month along Beach Boulevard near Southside Boulevard.
Rowe, who turns 48 on June 27, is probably best known among area supermarket shoppers as the entrepreneur who started his own chain five years ago.
In 2005, Rowe bought seven Albertsons stores, immediately sold one and opened the other six as Rowe’s Supermarkets. One by one, he sold those locations, several of them for development as Publix stores.
He was down to one Rowe’s at Blanding Boulevard and 103rd Street after selling the Southside store at Beach and University boulevards for development as Virginia College.
Now, he’s back in Southside in a former Food Lion to open a replacement store. From there, he is eyeing at least two more locations to reach “the four sides of town.”
“If it makes sense, we’ll do it,” he said. With the real estate market struggling and lots of retail space available, “there are lots of opportunities.”
Each store will be separately owned, with Rowe serving as “managing member and meat cutter.”
He is looking for smaller “boxes” of space “to fit a need for our customer with an international flair and an alternative to the other guys.”
Workers and stockers are filling the shelves of the new store. Rowe said the perishables should arrive the week of June 21 and the store will open when it’s time.
“This one will open when we’re ready,” he said, recalling the grand-opening challenges of the initial Rowe’s chain. The computerized cash register system didn’t operate smoothly and “it was just flat ugly.”
Regardless of the day the store opens, the official grand opening will be June 30.
He’ll hire about 65 full-time employees for the 33,500-square-foot store, fewer than the 78 at the larger Rowe’s at 5435 Blanding Blvd.
He declined to say how much he is investing in the store, but said SunTrust is “awesome” for lending the money.
He knows the economy isn’t the best. Rowe realizes there is competition, including a Walmart Supercenter across the street from the new location. He knows what he faces.
The economy? “It’s like the stock market. Fear, greed and panic,” he said.
But he also understands the customer’s bottom lines.
“If you’re making more money, you spend more. If you’re making less, you spend less. People are spending money smarter today,” he said.
He expects that to continue. “When incomes rise, they are still going to spend smarter.”
Rowe said he is focusing on quality, value and the needs of the neighborhood, with an emphasis on meats as well as a large selection of products to serve the Eastern European, Hispanic, Haitian, Jamaican and other cultures in the area.
“We just try to take care of our customers,” said Rowe.
As for the competition, he said it’s tough, but he knows that, especially after the deepest recession since the Great Depression that lasted for at least 18 months from the end of 2007 to last summer.
Like all retailers who operate in strongly competitive industries and especially those who operated through the recession, Rowe learned lessons.
“Don’t worry about everybody else and the competition and what they’re doing,” he said.
“Worry about what you’re doing and how you’re taking care of your customers.”
He considers Rowe’s shoppers to be customers who prefer to shop independent stores and don’t like shopping the big chains.
Rowe’s is affiliated with the IGA system, which is a brand for independent grocery stores that provides buying advantages and support.
Rowe’s doesn’t operate pharmacies and doesn’t take checks. Rowe streamlined the operation to handle what it needs to do.
“We’re as competitive as humanly possible to survive,” he said.
“I just do groceries.”