After busy year, Mariano's looking to make upgrades

Mariano's looks to fine-tune game

Mariano's is working on changes that customers may see in its supermarkets as well as some transformations that are happening behind the scenes after a busy year in which the chain more than doubled in size, founder Bob Mariano said Friday.

Mariano's will have 29 stores before the end of 2014, up from 13 at the end of 2013.

The Chicago-area grocer, owned by Milwaukee-based Roundy's Inc., revved up its expansion plans as it acquired several former Dominick's locations in 2013.

Now that the work to get those stores reopened and to open new ones is largely finished for the year, the Roundy's chairman and CEO said he's taking some time to figure out what tweaks should be made.

Roundy's has hired consulting firm AlixPartners to help figure out ways to keep costs under control and enhance profitability.

The review, which has focused on Mariano's as well as Roundy's other operations, includes everything from product assortment and pricing, to labor and supply chain, and comparing how the company stacks up to competitors, Mariano said.

The firm has given Roundy's some early feedback, and the process is continuing, Mariano said.

Other chains, such as Jewel-Osco, also have been opening in former Dominick's shops, though Whole Foods is waiting until 2015 to unveil its remodeled locations.

Next year, Mariano's plans to open five stores, followed by another five in 2016.

The slower pace of openings should be "a walk in the park, somewhat," Mariano said as he sat at the company's newest store, in Glenview, which is set to open Tuesday.

Mariano said some of the 2015 store openings would require a bit of attention, including a Skokie store featuring its own kosher shop with prepared meals and packaged foods. Still, opening a small fraction of the number of stores it worked on this year should give the chain some time to make improvements.

For example, Mariano said the chain would renovate some of the stores that opened in shuttered Dominick's locations. At some of those locations, it did not have time to build amenities found in a typical Mariano's, such as the station where fish and meat can be grilled to order.

It is also testing some prepared foods, such as stuffed peppers, created by chefs from Salero, a modern Spanish restaurant on Chicago's Randolph Street, to see if it can entice shoppers with some new hot entrees.

In the Glenview store, at 25 Waukegan Road, customers can get their steaks cut to order, a new feature for the chain. Mariano said the company decided to try it out as it noticed customers' preferences vary on the thickness of their steaks. The Glenview store, the chain's 28th, will also be its first with a dedicated area for sampling and buying honey from Wisconsin's Gentle Breeze Honey.

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