After several years of buzz, the most anticipated retail opening of the last decade happened at 14 different stores in three southeastern states North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. German discount retailer Lidl which operates more than 10,000 stores in 27 countries throughout Europe finally opened their doors. The chain will add another 80 stores along the East Coast by the middle of next year.

I made the drive from home outside of Charlotte, NC to the new store in my hometown of Greenville, SC. My oldest daughter Olivia joined me and several hundred local shoppers for the ribbon cutting. We then drove just up the highway to walk the store in Spartanburg SC. This is the first of three posts which will look at the new stores and their private brands.

These are good locations in crowded grocery markets. The Greenville store sits just across the street from a Walmart Neighborhood Market and a short distance from an Aldi, Save-A Lot, Publix and Walmart Supercenter. The Spartanburg store sits across the street from a Target, just down from an Ingles and a short distance from Sam’s Club, Costco and a Walmart Supercenter.

Let’s start with the obvious, these are nice stores, well designed and modern, the European influence is evident in the décor and merchandising. The distinctive angular architecture creates a bright open and airy store that when combined with the low shelving is a very nice shopping experience. This is not a dark and dirty discount store, at no point do you ever feel embarrassed or talked down to. This is efficient discounting in a German way that never makes you feel like you are buying cheap crap.

The fresh departments were surprising in their depth and quality, beautiful baked goods, fruits, vegetables and meats that begged to be eaten. Don’t get me wrong this is not a perfect assortment, HBC and cleaning were shallow at best.

But the real story is private brand, I will go into detail on that in future posts but suffice it to say Private Brand is the star of the show, in fact, the Private Brand is so pervasive that the national brands seem unnecessary. Even though the name Lidl is rarely used on the front of pack they are committed to standing behind their brand and its products. Signage clearly and confidently calls out three things:

  1. The “Lidl Love It Guarantee” in which they promise that customers will “Get your money refunded and the item replaced if a private label product doesn’t meet your expectations.”
  2. More of what you want, less of what you don’t know Added MSG, 0g Trans Fats, and No Certified Synthetic colors
  3. Consumer Tested: Our private label products are tested to meet your high standards.

I am not sure that these stores meet the aspirational challenge of their tagline “rethink grocery” but they are definitely well executed modern stores that I would be happy to shop on a weekly basis.

Between the two store walks, we purchased several hundred dollars worth of private brand products so stay tuned for a deeper look at their private brand portfolio and taste tests by my family of their products.

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Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.