Life is good at the bottom

Shoppers wait for the new market to open on April 13. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

— The quest to knock some bucks off their food bills brings shoppers bright and early to the grand opening of Bottom Dollar in Rhawnhurst.

There’s no shortage of people looking for a good deal in Northeast Philly. The lines outside the area’s newest discount supermarket during its recent grand opening demonstrated that.

Hundreds of shoppers converged upon Bottom Dollar Food at 7900 Roosevelt Blvd. on April 13, as the “soft discount” chain debuted its conversion of the longtime Ilona Keller’s Dugan’s.

“On opening day, we actually had customers in our parking lot at four-thirty a.m.,” said store manager Angel Powell. “It was an older couple. (The man) said he had heard about the store and had shopped at the ones on Broad Street and in Willow Grove. And he was going to be here opening day.”

He wasn’t alone. By the scheduled 8 a.m. opening, the former catering-hall parking lot already was swelling with cars. Though relatively new to the Philadelphia area, the Bottom Dollar Food profile is growing fast.

It is one of seven “banners” operated by Delhaize America, a division of the publicly traded Belgian company Delhaize Group. Food Lion stores are under the same umbrella.

There are 47 Bottom Dollar Food stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio. The company opened its first Philadelphia-area store in King of Prussia in October 2010. There are 19 now, spanning north into the Lehigh Valley, west into Reading and Coatesville, and throughout southern New Jersey.

In the city, there’s one at 9303 Krewstown Road in Bustleton, along with Broad Street and Godfrey Avenue in Olney and 7627 Lindbergh Blvd. in Southwest Philly.

“We’re committed to our expansion in the Philadelphia market and are looking for opportunities,” said district manager Mike Brennan.

Wherever you go, the marketing niche is the same. It’s not about having the biggest floor space or widest selection. Nor is it about frilly amenities like an on-site bakery, butcher shop or takeout lunch counter. Though it may seem an oft-heard refrain in the retail world, Bottom Dollar really is about lower prices and friendly, enthusiastic service, store officials say.

“It’s about prices and energy,” Powell said. “All of our associates are energetic and we have all your basic needs. We try to give our customers the biggest bang for the buck.”

Bottom Dollar Food stores practice a “price guarantee.” If a customer can find a specific product for a lower price somewhere else, even if it’s a sale price, Bottom Dollar will beat that price for a penny, store officials claim.

The frugality filters down even to the bags they use to pack your groceries. Customers should bring their own reusable sacks, which are for sale in the store. Meanwhile, the store charges 10 cents apiece for the disposable plastic bags, although Bottom Dollar cardholders get them for a nickel a bag.

The store uses other cost-cutting efficiencies. Newly arriving products don’t sit in a storeroom or private walk-in cooler. Instead, they’re moved from the delivery truck straight to the shelves. The produce section is a cooled room at the front of the store. Frozen foods go straight into their display cases.

“With produce and meat, the less handling you do, the better product it’s going to be,” Powell said.

Non-perishables often are stacked and displayed in cutaway boxes. Managers use computer-assisted inventory controls to track product sales and guide purchasing. Powell and her staff learned right away, for example, that there seems to be a relatively high demand on buttermilk and honey at the new store. There’s also a kosher section.

There are about 7,500 different items in the store, about 65 percent of which are considered national brands and 35 percent regional or private brands (some might call them generic brands), which are generally offered at a lower price. My Essentials and Hannaford are the primary private brands in the store.

The store covers about 18,000 square feet and has nine aisles.

“We could’ve tried to squeeze the aisles down, but we wanted to keep it open,” Brennan said.

The décor is intended to reflect the same cheery attitude, with lime green and orange the colors of choice. Snappy slogans, such as “Food prices that kick bottom” and “I’m a black belt in price chopping,” accent the walls and the back of employees’ uniform T-shirts.

There are roughly 50 employees, about 70 percent of whom are part-time.

“We held three job fairs in the community. The majority came from right here in the Northeast Philadelphia area,” Powell said.

They conducted about 250 interviews in all. Store officials also did advance community outreach involving its neighbors.

“We were very mindful to be respectful of neighbors,” Brennan said.

An alley separates the rear of the store, as well as a Japanese restaurant and a women’s fitness center, from homes. Delivery trucks are supposed to access the store via Roosevelt Boulevard and Borbeck Street and not use nearby residential streets.

The dock area is oriented so that truck cabs and their idling engines face away from the houses. The trash receptacles are kept in a pen that faces a car dealership on Borbeck Avenue. As for shopping carts, they feature an automated locking system so that the wheels can’t spin if they are removed from the property.

The store is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday to Saturday, and from 8 to 9 on Sunday.

Demographically, store officials want to appeal to everybody.

“Economics is economics,” Powell said. “With the times that the country is in right now, we have people in need and they want to get the best bargain they can.” ••