Thursday, February 5, 2009

DeLanos vacates downtown Tiburon

Following the announcement of the closure of the DeLano market in downtown Tiburon, the burning question is what is going to happen to the vacated space. Does the DeLanos exit, which was as a result of weak sales, signal that there just isn’t enough of a customer base to support a supermarket? Or is this a potential opportunity for an operator that is more in tune with local residents' needs?

There’s no doubt that DeLanos was a poor performer. There were never more than a handful of customers in the store whenever I went in there. And driving by I always noted plenty of empty space in the car park. Comments from locals had the same theme: nice staff but average selection of merchandise and high prices. Customers appeared to use the store for top-up shopping – picking up a few items in between their weekly shopping expeditions to Safeway or Costco. The store always came off second best in comparison with the adjacent Boardwalk Market, which is also expensive, but wins on quality and selection of merchandise.

Adding interest to the story is the situation at the Boardwalk Market, with plans announced last year to kick out the current tenant in 2010, renovate the space and install the operator of Kentfield’s highly-rated Woodland Market. Barring any signed agreements or contracts, Woodlands must surely be considering now whether they should take the DeLanos space instead. That would leave the Boardwalk in place as an established competitor, which is a risk. But alternatively, if Woodlands does not take the DeLanos space, it leaves open the possibility that another quality operator will. Adding spice is the fact that both the Boardwalk and the DeLanos site are owned by the Zelinski family, which also owns most of downtown Tiburon .

The main questions that an operator looking at the DeLanos space will have to ask is whether the local market is big enough to support my store, and can I grab market share from the competition and hold onto it. In terms of market size, Tiburon is certainly big enough. There are approximately 11,000 people in Tiburon/Belvedere. Average household incomes are amongst the highest in the nation, at close to $300,000. Spending on food to take home is estimated at over $10,000 per household, so with 4,700 households there is approximately $50 million of retail sales available for supermarkets and other food stores. A 20,000 square foot market making sales of $600 per square foot, or $12 million per annum would make a tidy profit. That equates to a market share of 24% ($12 million out of $50 million), which is definitely achievable for a good operator.

In terms of competition, Safeway at Strawberry is the main player. The store is not in Tiburon, but everyone passes it on the way in and out of the peninsula. The Boardwalk has no doubt some loyal customers, but it isn’t that great and will lose sales to a top tier operator located directly across the street. DeLanos at The Cove is a minor player.

The taker of the DeLano box also needs to think about the competitive risk in the shape of new players entering the market, most directly in the shape of Woodlands opening at the Boardwalk in 2012, plus Whole Foods at the Alma Center in Mill Valley, which is easily accessible for Tiburon folks. To a lesser extent, Trader Joes will pull some Tiburon shoppers to its new store at Larkspur.

Current market conditions dictate that nothing is likely to happen immediately. In better times I would not be surprised to see a strong Bay Area operator such as Draegers of San Mateo seizing an opportunity like this to enter the affluent Marin market. But it does not have to be an “up-market” operator. Rich people can be notoriously cheap. A value player such as Fresh & Easy would do just as well. Unfortunately, although largely unheard of in the region, it would not take people long to work out that Fresh & Easy is a chain retailer, which makes it about as welcome in the community as a uranium reprocessing facility.

Watch this space.

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