The Boston Globe has a piece about C&S Wholesale Grocers, the New Hampshire-based company that may prove to be the lynchpin in Kroger's proposed $24.6 billion acquisition of Albertsons; C&S would buy more than 400 stores, for close to $2 billion, that the two retailers are offering to divest in exchange for regulatory approval of their deal.
The Globe writes that "with this deal, C&S has arrived at a critical moment. The company has evolved from a family-owned supplier serving small New England grocery stores into one of the country’s largest privately owned firms, with $30 billion in annual revenue. And by buying Kroger’s stores, C&S appears willing to wade deeper into the retail grocery business, where it could find itself in bruising competition with industry leviathan Walmart.
"C&S already is the largest grocery wholesaler in America, admired by ally and foe alike. But its aggressive move into retail also has some in the industry scratching their heads. The company is risking its reputation — and balance sheet — operating stores in a segment in which many of its current clients are already struggling to compete with Walmart."
According to the Globe, "C&S declined interview requests for this story. But one thing’s for sure: the company is highly opportunistic, especially when it comes to buying distressed but still valuable assets at fire sale prices. C&S wants to expand but only on its terms, industry observers say."
Assessments by analysts differ.
"It’s simply impossible,” says Brittain Ladd, a retail consultant, about C&S's ability to compete with the likes of Walmart. "There are not enough stores for C&S to own.”
But Burt Flickinger, managing director of Strategic Resources Group consulting firm in New York, believes that C&S is positioned to succeed, especially because it has been "hiring experienced executives who know how to run retail," and the price tag for the divested store is relatively cheap. Plus, C&S's core competency is distribution, and it has access to technologies that rival anyone's in the industry.
The Globe writes:
"C&S ultimately knows it can’t solely rely on its wholesale business for growth, Flickinger said. If Walmart continues to crush supermarkets, there won’t be any supermarket left for C&S to supply. Therefore, C&S has every reason to make sure supermarkets and independent grocers survive, even if that means owning some of them, Flickinger said.
"'C&S correctly sees that the future is going to be a lot of privately held independent stores, either single stores and/or groups,' Flickinger said. 'C&S wants to have the size and scale of independent chains and groups to go with its buying and operating skills … C&S wants to control its own destiny'."
- KC's View:
If I have to choose between Brittain Ladd and Burt Flickinger, I'm almost always going to be on Team Flickinger.
Not to say that C&S won't face challenges - whether these are company-owned stores or independent customers for its wholesale services, these divested stores will have to provide some sort of differentiated value proposition to shoppers. That'll take both effort and vision. Brainpower and elbow grease.
But I don't think this is "impossible." Far from it.